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Mapping Socio-Spatial Relations in the Urban Built Environment Through Time: Describing the Socio-Spatial Significance of Inhabiting Urban Form

Part of the Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography book series (LNGC)

Abstract

This chapter introduces Boundary Line Type (BLT) mapping, a vector GIS based cross-culturally and diachronically comparative method, used for mapping the socio-spatial significance of urban built environments. This new research method is related to other methods currently used to study contemporary as well as historical urban built environments such as urban morphology, space syntax, and GIS based approaches. BLT mapping uses GIS technology in order to apply an ontology of formal boundary conceptualisations expressing the constitutive differences among the materially constructed subdivisions which shape built environments and are inhabited by urban society. This ontology resulted from a firm socio-spatial theoretical grounding (Vis in Sp Flows: Int J Urb ExtraUrb Stud 2(4): 15–29, 2013a; Vis 2013b; Vis in J Borderland Stud, forthcoming) and is here operationalised on the basis of contemporary, historical, historically reconstructed, and archaeological ground-level city plans of the historic city of Winchester (UK) and Chunchucmil (Classic Maya, Mexico). The research processes of data preparation and the analytical mapping of BLTs by identifying them in empirical data contexts are presented. This alerts the prospective user to the challenges and practical measures involved in using spatial datasets of different origin. The interpretive opportunities of the resultant formal redescription of the urban landscape and the potential of the BLT data structure for both advanced spatial analysis and visualisation is explained. Facilitating this interpretive and analytical mapping practice is expected to stimulate future research to systematically explore society-space relations as manifest and developing in cities over time and in socio-culturally contrasting urban traditions. Devising and conducting this methodology advances the qualitative GIS research agenda for the spatial humanities and social sciences by marrying theoretically informed ideational concepts to quantifiable empirical units of information.

Keywords

  • Geographical Information System
  • Base Plan
  • Urban Form
  • Raster Image
  • Urban Morphology

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Affordance is a concept derived from the work of psychologist Gibson (1979) on perception, which entails the quality of things and the environment which allows individuals all possibilities to act upon them. Here affordance is used in conjunction with the affective qualities of the experience of encountering things and/or the environment.

  2. 2.

    Space syntax incorporates a family of analyses, which also includes a strong branch in interior spaces, based on graph analysis (Hillier and Hanson 1984). Incidentally, in archaeology syntactic analyses of interior space are arguably yet more wide-spread than urban analyses (see Fisher 2009).

  3. 3.

    Assuming a time-slice is atomic explicates its momentary indivisible nature as a whole. A time-slice is an abstract entirety which is immediate and inseparable: no time passes, everything occurs at once.

  4. 4.

    It is important to note that all conjectures can be retrieved from direct comparison with the traced data of the original plan. It is likely that more means become available to improve on the conjecturing (or reconstruction) process in an informed way if additional research is carried out, thus further giving reasons to revise and adjust insights derived from the current iteration.

  5. 5.

    It is also possible to set topological rules before mapping and check up on data created in a (semi) live way, whilst editing the data. This could be more efficient if most eventualities are known upfront. Likewise topological rule sets can be adjusted if it is found that the rules do not adhere to the intended logic. Unfortunately, topological rules appear unable to handle composite rules regarding more than one feature class (layer) at once, but can only run multiple questions simultaneously, each treating a single layer. Complementary coverages can be checked by using tools for selecting on location.

  6. 6.

    Of course the simplification process is not ‘intelligent’. Though accuracy to about 10 cm is maintained, at very large scales, some shapes might have become altered counter intuitively, e.g. right angles might have become slightly flattened and curves less smooth. Unwanted changes can be manually adjusted.

  7. 7.

    Biddle’s 1976 edited volume on early medieval Winchester does not contain mapping material to a similar level of detail, which reflects the increasingly fragmentary nature of the archaeological and historical records required for sequence mapping.

  8. 8.

    The 1750 Godson survey was also considered for preparing an additional time-slice. However, after appropriate digitisation and georeferencing of this plan from the two copies in the Bodleian Library’s collection, it soon transpired that not only the historical survey technology, style of depiction, and imprecise edge matching of the printed sheets, would make a topographical challenge. Also the detailing the detailing of the plan left many building and plot details ambiguous. This rules out the opportunity for a direct translation into realistic and accurate individually reconstructed topographical features. Although the Keene (1985) plans also lack part of the a priori level of detail required for BLT mapping, his two large comprehensive volumes give much detailed background on how to interpret the plans. It is possible that with appropriate historical research, the Godson survey could make a suitable basis for an additional historical section of the city in the future.

  9. 9.

    The originals produced with the help of Geoff Denford, Winchester City Council (Winchester Museum Service), were at 400 and 600 dpi, while additional scans on a larger scanner were made at the University of Portsmouth thanks to Katherine Barclay at 500 dpi. Although the quality of definition on the 500 dpi scans was superior, the lower resolution determined the quality of the final stitched scans, which were visually improved with image processing and filtering in Photoshop thus ensuring readable solid lines, suitable for semi-automated vectorisation (see below).

  10. 10.

    It should be noted that the Keene plans were prepared in reference to the then current OS city plans of the 1970s, which used planimetric technology closer to present standards (Keene, personal communication). In addition the 1872 OS plan and the 1750 Godson survey were used as points of reference for shaping features in the built environment. The film sheets were all in relatively good condition, but there is no accounting for any errors resulting from 40 years of ageing of the physical material, although flat roller scanning should ensure an accurate reproduction of their current condition without photographic lens distortion. Finally, accuracy is compromised by the stitching process, which is a simplistic visual weighting of the matching errors between the edges of each sheet using graphical tools in Photoshop, which inevitably retains small mismatches. An alternative would have been to vectorise the images and use ArcGIS computational tools to match the edges of the matching vector files.

  11. 11.

    In addition, the geographical representation of listed buildings and monument sites was obtained from Winchester City Council (courtesy of Ian Scrivener-Lindley and Tracy Matthews). These polygons and points were prepared on the basis of MasterMap, and so would relate exactly to the source data. Unfortunately, heritage listings serve a policy purpose of protecting and managing the sites. This means their shapes cannot be trusted to convey any historical reality. Furthermore, in Winchester the heritage records, often of a dubious and dated standard, have not been fully integrated across the various systems that have existed over the years and do not include archaeological excavation plans. Only limited cautious use could be made of these records, using online resources such as Heritage Gateway and National Heritage List for England. In practice, where possible, Keene’s (1985) words were preferred over the listings, but the records were used to indicate plausible historically persistent features.

  12. 12.

    MasterMap can be updated up to every six months. This data was downloaded end of October 2011, with the Ordnance Survey Imagery Layer (OS official aerial photography) and Ordnance Survey Address Layer (2) arriving on disc in April 2012.

  13. 13.

    Online mapping and imaging resources can be updated without prior notice. The work on Winchester took place between May 2012 and April 2013.

  14. 14.

    Little is known about the actual (physical) subdivisions of open areas associated with buildings in the medieval period. Archaeologically there could have been fences, paths and hedges, all used to section off small bits of space. In any case, it seems likely the medieval city saw a variety of plot divisions and shared open areas (Dean, personal communication), which is also suggested throughout the discussion of properties in Keene’s (1985) gazetteer.

  15. 15.

    As noted before, this could partially be due to the way the historically reconstructed map and lack of documentary detail was treated in the outline base plan.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded by a University of Leeds Research Scholarship. This work would not have been possible without the kind and patient assistance, dedication and astute insights of the respective map makers and data holders: Scott Hutson, Derek Keene, Martin Biddle, Katherine Barclay, Geoff Denford, Ian Scrivener-Lindley, and Tracy Matthews and the projects or organisations behind them: the Pakbeh Regional Economy Program, the Winchester Excavations Committee (in particular the Winchester Research Unit), Winchester City Council (in particular the Winchester Museum Service). Thanks also to Mark Gillings for helping me sort out digital file conversions. Andrew Evans, Penelope Goodman and Alex Schafran offered useful comments on an earlier version of this chapter. Thanks to Jonathan Sela for helping out with the final details. For any data requests, contact the author.

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Vis, B.N. (2014). Mapping Socio-Spatial Relations in the Urban Built Environment Through Time: Describing the Socio-Spatial Significance of Inhabiting Urban Form. In: Rau, S., Schönherr, E. (eds) Mapping Spatial Relations, Their Perceptions and Dynamics. Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-00993-3_4

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