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Evaluating Urbanity by Measuring Urban Morphology Attributes

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This study analyzes the performance of urban spaces from the qualitative assessment of morphological attributes. It is intended to demonstrate that the performative quality is a factor that finds its opportunity in the attributes of the urban form and spatial configuration. The goal is to find whether some attributes play or not a determinant role in establishing the conditions of urbanity. The term urbanity here is used as the characteristics of the “urbis” that promote civility, human presence, and the natural appropriation of spaces for different types of open space activities. This definition of urbanity is assumed to describe a “positive” dynamic use of urban space, promoting social interaction, security, economic activities, and pleasant spaces for walking. The underlying hypothesis is that urbanity (or positive urban condition) can occur only when specific attributes meet within a specific urban area. These attributes are mainly of morphological and configurational nature, and therefore, they may inform us on how to design better public spaces and cities in general. Thus, we propose a methodology that studies socio-spatial relationships in confrontation with morphological characteristics, seeking to establish relationships between them. The methodology proposes to confront an automated morphological-type description with a set of performance metrics (or measures), calculated using indicators based on the concepts and principles of contemporary urbanism found in the recent scientific literature in this area of knowledge and consensually considered qualifying factors of urban space. The chosen indicators express the accessibility of the network, the compactness of the urban model, the participation of facades in activating the sociable urban space, and the safety of its use. We calculate these measures through a semi-automated modeling of all information and use a statistical approach to enable the classification of type-morphological characteristics as adequate or inadequate. The research is organized into four fundamental steps. The first identifies the set of performance measures or attributes capable of qualifying urban space and urbanity. The selection of attributes is based on a critical assessment of indicators employing a literature review. The second step identifies the range of variation of attributes that correspond to positive performance based on either reference cases or previous research found in the literature review, pointing towards specific systems of value that can be used for qualitative interpretation of measures that we shall call reference parameters or performance indicators. In the third step, we develop a morphological classification of urban samples based on their morphological attributes. In the last step, we search for correlations between morphological attributes and reference parameters to identify which ones are more prone to develop positive qualities in terms of a possible capacity of inducing urbanity. We analyzed two sets of urban fabric samples: one set taken from reference cases in Lisbon, Portugal, and a second set from Recife, Brazil. Morphological attributes and reference performance indicators are calculated for all samples and analyzed through a correlation matrix from which we can extract the correlation values between morphological attributes and performance indicators. The correlation analysis opens a new vision towards what morphological features may induce better urbanity. This paper focuses on the first two steps, i.e., the definition of the system of values that provides the interpretation of measurements. The following paper will complete the conclusions of the fourth step of this research.


  • Urban form
  • Urbanity
  • Data analysis
  • Urban space
  • Quality performance
  • Evidence-based

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This work is financed by national funds through FCT—Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P., under the Strategic Project with the references UIDB/04008/2020 and UIDP/04008/2020.

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Correspondence to José Nuno Beirão .

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Elias, S., Beirão, J.N. (2023). Evaluating Urbanity by Measuring Urban Morphology Attributes. In: Mora, P.L., Viana, D.L., Morais, F., Vieira Vaz, J. (eds) Formal Methods in Architecture. FMA 2022. Digital Innovations in Architecture, Engineering and Construction. Springer, Singapore.

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