We are hosting Ed Baggs to give a talk tomorrow; details below. Book your attendance here.
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 from 15:00 to 16:30 (GMT)
Leeds, United Kingdom
Navigating in a built environment requires road users to attend not only to information about immediately visible static objects but also to information about potential future hazards. Pedestrians attempting to cross a road must be aware of things like cars that are not in their immediate field of vision but which may nevertheless appear from round a corner before they reach the other side of the road. In assessing whether it is safe to cross, what the pedestrian perceives is not empty space but a relation between their own prospective path across the road and a prospective state of the world. Where vision is impeded by traffic and other opaque objects the pedestrian directly perceives uncertainty about whether it is safe to cross.
I take this analysis of the pedestrian’s task and use it to examine some problems in urban design. I focus on the design philosophy known as shared space, which has become popular among UK town planners. According to shared space thinking, the most effective urban spaces are those in which artificial structures such as signs and kerbs and traffic signals are removed and individual road users are forced to interact with one another directly. This has led to some high-profile redesigns of British city centres. However, the removal of traditional road features has also led to complaints from vulnerable groups, such as the blind and the elderly, who had been reliant on the now-removed features. I suggest that these problems have arisen because designers have not been guided by an appropriate account of how individual pedestrians perceive their environment. The concepts of prospective control and direct perception of uncertainty are invoked in analysing some existing shared spaces and are used to motivate some heuristics for effective design.