New city-modeling software quantifies the movement of urban dwellers

UNA for Rhino 3D helps determine the impact that urban design can have on where pedestrians go.

July 14, 2015 |
New city-modeling software quantifies the movement urban dwellers

Map: MIT, courtesy of Andres Sevtsuk/City Form Lab

Four years ago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s City Form Lab launched Urban Network Analysis (UNA), a city-modeling software that facilitates a mathematical analysis of relationships among elements in a complex system, like a city. The unique feature of UNA is that it incorporates activities within buildings into its analysis.

This toolbox has been popular with planners and geographers, but it requires ArcGIS10 software with an ArcGIS Network Analysis Extension.

In April, City Form Lab expanded this software’s utility by introducing UNA for Rhino 3D, a modeling software for architects, engineers, and designers.

“Our toolbox helps planners and architects analyze these relationships and quantify how intensely different routes are likely to be utilized, how visible or connected public spaces are, or how conveniently one can get from one space to another,” says Andres Sevtsuk, the principal investigator at City Form Lab and developer of the UNA tool.

In layman’s terms, the software predicts where people are likely to go once they’ve decided upon an activity, like, say, going to an ATM machine or a park. The software provides users with some idea about which ATM or park that would be. As for movements to and within buildings, UNA takes into account employee head count, a building’s value, the surrounding population, and so forth.

This app’s toolbox also computes how urban design can affect—or even dictate—pedestrian movement. Sevtsuk notes, too, that the software can be scaled to account for the diversity of movement in different cities and towns.

Sevtsuk is encouraged by the sheer amount of spatial data available about urban areas, particularly in the U.S., where “you can go to any sizable city website and download data that is necessary to calibrate any of these models.” He’s confident that this software can be used to predict movement in public or semi-public spaces such as building lobbies or shopping centers. 

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