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CityModel - City Model Benchmarking

Title: CityModel - City Model Benchmarking

Principal investigator: Nuno Miguel Marques de Sousa

Research team: Nuno Sousa, Luís Alçada, John Current, Junior Researcher

Dates start/end: 1st of November 2019/31 October 2020


The structure and form of the cities, their disposition and the spatial location of their areas, zones and facilities has been an open discussion, as old as cities themselves. This has been an active debate by academia researchers, with concepts like the Garden City, Radiant City or Linear City, firing up theoretical discussions, mainly questioning what the ideal form of a city would be, as well as which model would be most efficient. However, in practice cities ended up growing based on different criteria, ideas, models, many times in a chaotic way with different influences along the years.

Theoretical debates on structure and form were mostly academic due to lack of adequate analysis tools that could point out the advantages of the different urban design ideas, as well as providing an effective comparison between the different models and the real cities.

Until now.

The recent development of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and the massive improvement in calculus capabilities of computers opened up the possibility of putting the theories to the test. By looking at a real city, as it stands, pinpointing its geographical layout of zones, buildings and facilities, and laying these down in the form of a classic concept like the Garden City, it is possible to compare the real situation with what would be if the city’s urban architecture was to follow a classic model. In short, to ascertain how good the classic city models are, after all.

But comparing requires defining some sort of performance indicator. Thus, it is necessary to look for core indicators by which cities can be compared. These may be connected to energy efficiency, mobility, accessibility, pleasantness and quality of life. In addition, they must be quantifiable and calculable in GIS.

This project aims to give a tentative answer to the question “what is the ideal city?” by comparing the city of Coimbra, Portugal, as it stands in real life, with its would-be layout as a classic city, the Garden City, using as comparison measure an accessibility indicator.

Garden city and accessibility are just one particular combination of model/indicator. Many more classic models and indicators could be envisioned, and will be explored, time permitting. This proposal can thus also be seen as a test ground for an ambitious, long-term project of benchmarking and comparing multiple city models in very many ways, possibly culminating in a multicriteria analysis.