Ten minutes wide: human walking capacities and the experiential quality of campus design: a review of 37 master plans reveals three main categories of design goals for campus walking paths.
All humans have limits based on their physical abilities. Collectively, these human capacities inform whether or not the built environment fits our needs (Ittelson et al. 1974). For example, the human capacity to walk at an average speed of one to three miles per hour limits the distance a person can travel in a given period of time. Combining this fact with the average person's tolerance for walking in terms of distance and time suggests that the best fit occurs when likely destinations in the built environment fall within a quarter-mile radius or a 10-minute walk. Research has shown that this distance complies with human scale; this particular human capacity has informed the design of cities and communities worldwide (Barnett 2003; Calthorpe 1993; Perry 1929).
A tangential idea related to the quarter-mile or 10-minute walk is referred to as the Marchetti constant. The Marchetti constant states that throughout history, the time people spend traveling each day has remained at a fairly constant one and a half hours (Marchetti 1994), and, on average, people prefer to travel no more than half an hour on trips to and from home (Newman and Jennings 2008). These two human capacities effectively prescribe that the built environment should be approximately "one hour wide," where the average one-way commute, regardless of transportation type, equals 30 minutes.
In most of today's autocentric urban environments, a 30-minute commute would be a welcome relief! For example, in metropolitan Atlanta, 11.8 percent of the population (approximately half a million people) spends over an hour commuting one way to work (Hart 2006). The point is that while we can figure out the maximums and minimums to fit human capacities, our built environments do not always coincide with these limits. Evidence of this is seen in all types of built environments, and college campuses are no exception.
In an academic setting, the travel-time budget is quite different. The "one hour wide" urban planning ideal shrinks to "10 minutes wide," given the fact that students have a set amount of time to change classes. Based on a 10-minute intersession and our physical walking abilities, the maximum distance between classes should be at most 2,400 feet and fit within a quarter-mile radius. However, the form and spatial configuration of many campuses has shifted to a suburban model, in which distances between buildings are scaled to fit the automobile and often exceed the dimensions dictated by human walking capacities (Kenney, Dumont, and Kenney 2005).
Beginning in the 1960s, campus master plans addressed this shift in scale by designing for human users and placing likely destinations within a quarter-mile radius. Today, many master plans go a step further and actually promote the experiential characteristics associated with campus walkability as an important way to recruit students and bring feelings of community to the campus setting (see the 2008 campus master plans for Middlebury College and the University of Utah [web addresses for these and all plans cited are included at the end of the article]). Thus, whether a campus is large or small, the idea of a 10-minute walk is an important human-scaled design standard that affects an institution in significant ways beyond just getting students to class on time.
Designing a 10-Minute Walk
Designing a 10-minute walk seems like a simple exercise. Based on earlier information, all one needs to do is provide a walking surface and make it approximately 2,400 feet long. But in reality, this is a much more complex design problem. Beyond answering the question of why a 10-minute walk is important, many master plans fail to suggest how to effectively create one. Keeping human capacities in mind, what would such a walk look like and how should it function? To begin answering this question, the author reviewed 37 campus master plans and categorized all stated design goals for walking paths into three main categories: (1) functional, (2) aesthetic, and (3) experiential.
A functional example comes from a 2006 Texas State University master plan, which dictates that all campus walks should be classified as primary, secondary, or tertiary and be a minimum of 18, 10, and 6 feet wide respectively. The rationale is that for a primary walkway to function appropriately, it needs to accommodate up to eight people walking abreast. In terms of human capacities, 18 feet fits, given that the average person requires a minimum width of approximately two feet to walk independently and four feet to walk side-by-side, etc. (Mahan 1989).
An aesthetic example appears in a 1989 Stanford University landscape guidelines document, which states that walking routes should be based on a "sequential experience" of movement. This idea is tied to the theoretical construct of "serial vision" developed by Cullen (1966), in which the succession of consecutive spaces along a path provides a sequential visual experience. From a human capacities standpoint, the guideline fits the mechanics of how humans see (Loidl and Bernard 2003; Rapoport 1977) and subsequently perceive and interpret objects in the built environment (Arnheim 1977; Gibson 1950; Jakle 1987).
Two final examples fall into the more elusive experiential category. A 2005 Boise State University master plan suggests that the network of walkways on campus should be "pleasurable" and a 2007 North Carolina State University master plan suggests that walking paths should be "beautiful" and "lively" Each of these descriptors suggests that walking should be a positive human experience rather than a negative one. However, unlike in the functional and aesthetic examples, knowledge of how the experiential nature of walks fits human capacities in positive ways is limited and more research is needed.
Experiencing a 10-Minute Walk
Suggesting that walking paths should be experientially positive through words like pleasurable, beautiful, and lively is easy to do; however, determining what constitutes these qualities in terms of human capacities and physical design is considerably more difficult. Human preference is subjective, and what is considered a positive attribute in one case can be viewed as directly the opposite in another. Nonetheless, there are examples in the literature that address this issue (Alexander, Ishikawa, and Silverstein 1977; Ashihara 1983; Cullen 1966; Gehl, Kaefer, and Reigstad 2006; Hiss 1990; Jacobs 1995). These six examples in particular address the visual qualities associated with the built environment and how people experience the world as they see it.
Using these theories as a foundation, one possibility for measuring the experiential quality of a walk ties back to the original notion of a 10-minute walk and the element of time. A strong advocate for studying the temporal aspects of walking is Peter Bosselmann, who suggests that designers "have remarkable power to affect the perception of time by arranging objects in space, by setting dimensions, designing textures, selecting color, and manipulating light" (Bosselmann 1998, p. 91). What Bosselmann does not discuss, however, is specifically how to accomplish this by describing which dimensions, textures, colors, etc., are most appropriate. Further complicating matters, there are two approaches that can be taken when looking at manipulating the perception of time as a design variable. The first is to manipulate the estimate of duration in terms of "shorter" and "longer," and the second is to affect the immediate awareness of the passage of time as either "slower" or "faster" (Fraisse 1984; Isaacs 2001).
In the first case involving the duration of time (short and long), the theoretical foundation was established years ago by psychologist William James, who stated, "In general, a time filled with varied and interesting experiences seems short in passing, but long as we look back. On the other hand, a tract of time empty of experiences seems long in passing, but in retrospect short" (James 1892, p. 150). To relate this paradox to walking, in complex environments that engage people's minds, they are less aware of the passage of time and therefore a walk seems short; however, when reflecting back on their experience and the variety of sensations encountered, the walk seems to have taken longer.
In the second case involving the immediate awareness of time (slow and fast), the main theory is tied to the visual flow of information associated with the walking route. Rapoport (1977) explains that speed affects both time and distance estimates and suggests that when walking, low information trips seem slower than high information trips. For example, low information trips are generally featureless and perceived as slow, boring, and generally unpleasurable, while high information trips are visually stimulating and pleasurable and therefore seem to pass by faster.
Thus, these two theories suggest that the visual complexity of a walk
can affect the perception of time in terms of duration and awareness and therefore each could serve as a design variable. Manipulating the physical environment to alter the perception of time creates many intriguing design possibilities from an experiential point of view. Applying this to campus walks, some questions to consider are what objects affect the perception of time and how? How "long or short" or "fast or slow" should designers make a campus walk? How does this information inform future campus design proposals?
To begin answering these questions, the author conducted a series of student focus group discussions at the University of Georgia, in which students were asked to list descriptive words that most closely describe a "pleasurable or ideal walk" From an experiential standpoint, words such as leisurely, beautiful, tranquil, dynamic, and easy were given. However, when the same question was asked again, specifically in terms of campus walks, the responses shifted significantly to include words such as direct, quick, efficient, and express.
From these responses and in terms of time, it appears that students relate their walking preferences to their immediate needs. When they are unhurried, students appreciate walks that are perceived as leisurely, tranquil, beautiful, and easy, but when confronted with a time line (such as changing classes), they largely prefer direct and efficient routes to their destinations. Thus, students prefer the duration of walks to seem short in passing, and in terms of awareness of time, they prefer walks that appear fast.
In order to discover what physical factors may affect the perception of time, a series of walking paths on the campus of the University of Georgia was tested. Six walks, each approximately a quarter-mile in length, were tested by 48 undergraduate students equally divided into groups of eight. Each group was assigned to walk one of the six routes in order to obtain the average length in terms of time; each group was also asked to identify and rank any relevant objects encountered along the path and to rank the overall walking experience. All of the walks chosen for the study were on the University of Georgia's North Campus and traversed through or adjacent to the historic core. The starting point for each walk was along Broad Street and continued south to the main library or its quarter-mile distance equivalent (see figure 1).
Walk A followed an existing sidewalk and ran continuously along Lumpkin Street over its entire length. Walk B ran parallel to Herty Drive, an interior campus road, for approximately two-thirds of its length and then continued straight along a joint walking/vehicle path. Walk C began at the historic Arch, took a slight left turn across the North Quadrangle toward the Administration Building, and continued straight to the main library. Walk D also began at the historic Arch, took a slight left turn across the Library Quadrangle toward Peabody Hall, and continued straight to the main library. Walk E ran straight along the eastern edge of the quadrangle to the main library. Walk F followed an existing sidewalk and ran parallel to Jackson Street over its entire length (see figure 2 for photographs showing the beginning, middle, and end of each route).
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
Following the completion of each walk, students were asked to estimate the length of time it took (see figure 3). Students also completed a short survey that probed their recollection of what they observed during the walk and, using a Likert scale (1-5), ranked each object as strongly negative, negative, neutral, positive, or strongly positive. Finally, students also ranked the overall quality of the walking experience on a similar scale (see figure 4).
The purpose of this study was to investigate how the experiential qualities of campus walks can be altered through physical design and the purposeful manipulation of the perception of time. More specifically, the intent of the study was to determine which objects along a path's route contribute to James's notion of "varied and interesting experiences" or constitute Rapoport's "high information trips" and subsequently alter the awareness and duration of time. A secondary purpose was to suggest how these findings can be applied to enhance the experiential nature of future campus walks.
Awareness and duration of time. As shown in figure 3, the perception of time was overestimated on every walk by a range of 50 seconds to over two minutes. The reasons for this are difficult to discern conclusively, but there is some evidence that overestimation is a common occurrence (Crompton and Brown 2006; Fraisse 1984). Despite the uniform overestimation, when looking at the results as a whole it is evident that walks B and E stand out as being "shorter" in passing and walks A and F as "longer" More specifically, the data show that the difference in perceived walking time for walks B and E from the actual time ranges from 50 to 55 seconds, while the difference in perceived and actual walking time for walks A and F ranges from 1:51 to 2:14. When compared to actual walking times, these differences translate into a modest increase of 16 to 19 percent for walks B and E and a more substantial increase of 36 to 43 percent for walks A and F.
This finding is significant when considered in the context of the theoretical ideas of James and Rapoport as well as the responses of the student focus group regarding campus walks. Recall that students prefer campus walks that appear direct, quick, and efficient when they are under a time constraint; walks B and E satisfy this need. The data suggest that walks B and E are perceived as both shorter (duration of time) and faster (awareness of time), which from a theoretical standpoint indicates these walks contain a higher occurrence of "varied and interesting experiences" and are considered "high information trips" The opposite could be stated about walks A and F. This finding serves as the theoretical basis for the remainder of the discussion.
Object influences. One way to understand why discrepancies occurred in the perception of walks B and E as compared with walks A and F is to focus on the positive and negative connotations people associate with individual objects. As Rapoport and James suggest, it is assumed in this study that positive reactions to objects contribute to "high information trips" and to "varied and interesting experiences," while negative reactions to objects have the opposite effect. Thus, in terms of time, positive walks generally appear shorter and negative walks generally appear longer.
Translating this assumption into average numerical values, it can be argued that objects that ranked strongly positive (4.0 and greater) and positive (3.0-3.99) may contribute to shorter walks and objects that ranked strongly negative (0-0.99) and negative (1.0-1.99) may contribute to longer walks. The presence of neutrally ranked objects (2.0-2.9) has no significant effect on the perception of time. Assuming this theory is true, one would expect to find the "shorter" walks B and E ranked higher than the "longer" walks A and F This in fact turns out to be true, as the average ranking of walks B and E is 4.0 and 4.2 and that of walks A and F is 2.7 and 3.0 on a scale of 1 to 5 (see figure 4).
This line of thinking can also be applied to individual objects. For all the walks tested, the objects with strongly positive rankings were fountains, grass, people, plant material, shade, trees, and wildlife. Objects with positive rankings were architecture, benches, fences, and statues. On the negative side, dumpsters/trash cans, parking, streets, and trash ranked as negative objects. The only object to receive a strongly negative ranking was traffic (see figure 5). Thus, it can be argued that the objects that appear in the strongly positive and positive columns may cause the passing of time to appear short and fast, while the objects in the strongly negative and negative columns may cause the passing of time to appear long and slow.
Uniformity in rankings. Several interesting correlations are discovered when comparing uniform object rankings between walkways B and E and A and F For example, the category of plant material uniformly ranked strongly positive (4.6, 4.1, 4.4, and 4.0) and trash uniformly ranked negative (1.6, 1.0, 1.9, and 1.3) on these four walkways. This finding may not be surprising, but it is significant in that plant material and trash appear to have a consistent effect on people, regardless of the other sensory inputs associated with the four walks.
Taking these uniform findings one step further, it appears that the rankings can be grouped into larger categories of physical elements that affect the perception of time. For example, many of the uniformly positive rankings observed in this study relate to "green" objects associated with the natural environment (e.g., trees, plants, grass). This suggests that green objects can be incorporated in design proposals to enhance the experiential quality of walkways. This finding has been replicated in several other studies in urban contexts and, in one particular case, green objects were found to elicit "positive moods" (Hartig et al. 2003).
[FIGURE 6 OMITTED]
One unexpected finding was the fact that the category of "people" resulted in uniformly high rankings on each of the four walks. People consistently ranked in the strongly positive category, with an average score of 4.5. This suggests that the presence of people enhances the experiential quality of walkways, and designers should recognize the need to design networks of walkways to consolidate pedestrian traffic in a manner that allows visual contact. This finding has been replicated in several urban studies that show that people do in fact attract other people to open spaces (Alexander, Ishikawa, and Silverstein 1977; Gehl 1987, 2010; Whyte 1980).
Discrepancies in rankings. Just as uniform results are important to consider, discrepancies in rankings can also be informative. In terms of the degree of positivity associated with objects, the only category that did not receive a consistently positive ranking across the four walks was architecture. Architecture ranked neutral on walks A and F and positive on walks B and E. What accounts for this discrepancy given the fact that the buildings were the same for each walk?
One explanation suggests that the main difference could be connected to a building's orientation. On walkways A and F, the buildings' back facades face the walks; on walkways B and E, the front facades face the walks (see figures 1 and 2). Subtle differences in facade articulation or even the presence or absence of doorways and windows could account for the skewed rankings. Existing research highlights the importance of front facade articulation as an important component of successful urban streets (Gehl, Kaefer, and Reigstad 2006).
There were also discrepancies in the degree of negativity toward objects among the four walks. The categories of traffic and streets were ranked negative to strongly negative along walks A and F and neutral and positive on walks B and E. What accounts for this discrepancy? One explanation relates to the configuration and amount of traffic associated with each walk. Several studies have shown that environments with high traffic volumes negatively affect experiential quality (Appleyard and Lintell 1972). Quick vehicular counts conducted by the author show that the roads adjacent to walks A and F have nearly 11 times more cars per hour than that adjacent to walk B and walk E has no vehicular traffic.
Configuration influences. As mentioned previously, the category of architecture contained the widest range of scores, ranging from 2.3 to 4.8 (see figure 4). When comparing the rankings with one another, walk C (4.8) stands out above the rest. What accounts for this difference?
One explanation looks beyond whether or not an object is perceived to how the configuration of the walkway forces people to see it. As shown in figure 6, the top three images represent the approaching view of the Academic Building as seen along walk C and the bottom images represent the approaching view of the same building along walk E. The alignment and slight turn of walk C through the quadrangle allows the viewer to observe the building at a 40 degree angle, while walk E forces the viewer to approach the building at an acute 13 degree angle, making the front facade nearly invisible.
In essence, the configuration of the walkway forces people to look at the architecture more directly along walk C than along the other routes. Whether or not this single factor is the cause of the higher ranking is unclear, but research conducted in urban environments indicates that people observe architecture best when they approach a building perpendicular to the facade and view it at a minimum vertical angle of 27 degrees at a distance of 52 feet (Blumenfeld 1967). This minimum standard is more consistent with walk C than walk E.
Interestingly, it appears that the configuration of walkways also affects the perception of time. Of the three walks that traverse through the historic campus quadrangles (walks C, D, and E), only walks C and D contain turns (see figure 1). [cr] Although the turns add an insignificant 50 feet (a 4 percent increase) to the overall length as compared to the strictly linear walk E, when looking at the perceived time, walks C and D were overestimated by a more substantial margin. The fact that these three walks essentially pass the same physical objects and offer the same aesthetic experience suggests that the inclusion of turns may cause the walks to appear longer.
Future Design and Research Possibilities
As discussed previously, design criteria in existing campus master plans highlight the functional, aesthetic, and experiential qualities of walkways. Of these three categories, the experiential qualities tend to be the most elusive to identify and implement. This study has shown that manipulating the temporal aspects of walkways can be effective in enhancing experiential quality to fit human needs. From a student perspective, campus walks B and E appear to satisfy all three criteria and best fit human walking capacities. Functionally, these two walks are dimensionally sufficient to allow hundreds of students to traverse a quarter mile without incident on their way to and from class. Aesthetically, they ranked the highest among the walks tested; experientially, these two walks appear fast and short, which appeases students hurrying between classes.
Despite the findings highlighting walks B and E as experientially richer than the others, all of the walks in this study are arguably some of the best the University of Georgia has to offer. By no means do the walks with lower rankings (A, C, D, and F) fail to accomplish their respective purposes. The question then is what level of improvement to the experiential quality of walks is really necessary?
The range of answers to this question will undoubtedly vary from institution to institution, if not from walk to walk. However, if designing campuses to satisfy human capacities is a goal (as evidenced by a multitude of recent campus master plan proposals), then each institution must assess its individual circumstances to determine the best possible way to achieve that goal.
As future design possibilities are contemplated, additional research is warranted. There are two areas in particular that deserve further investigation. The first relates to topography. Each walkway tested in this study was relatively flat in terms of change in elevation. It has been established that topographic changes of as little as three percent are both visible to the human eye and are "felt" when traversed (Lynch and Hack 1984). Even modest slopes such as these begin to affect the perception of human effort (Proffitt et al. 2003) and may affect whether or not a walkway is seen as fast or slow, long or short, preferred and used or avoided altogether.
In addition, the overall configuration of walkways needs to be investigated further. As discussed previously, the six walks in this study were generally straight with the exception of walks C and D, which contained slight turns but were otherwise linear in character. These slight turns appeared to alter the perception of time, and existing research has shown that walks that contain turns or are curvilinear in character are perceived to be longer than those that are straight (Crompton and Brown 2006; Montello 1997). These facts suggest that these two design variables can have a profound impact on user perception and affect experiential quality.
Clearly, not all campus walks are created equal. As more and more campus master plans recommend establishing 10-minute walks as a solution to the dominance of the automobile and sprawling campus forms, designers must attend to the "how" of designing these walks' functional, aesthetic, and experiential characteristics. Designers should also recognize that students comprise the largest user group of campus walkways and therefore their particular needs for efficient and direct paths must be considered. Additionally, the need to create pleasurable, beautiful, and leisurely walks must also remain a part of the overall aesthetic experience. The results of this study suggest that both objectives can be accomplished simultaneously.
The human capacity to perceive time is complicated, and much is still unknown. This study suggests that using time as a design variable has the potential to alter the experiential quality of walks in positive ways. Recognizing that time has an associated length and width allows us to think critically about the in-between experiences and gives designers the opportunity to manipulate the experiential qualities that are 10 minutes wide.
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Campus Master Plans Cited
Boise State University (2007): finad.boisestate.edu/pplant/masterplan.html
Middlebury College (2008): www.middlebury.edu/offices/business/facilities/pdc/masterplan
North Carolina State University (2007): www.ncsu.edu/facilities/physical_master_plan/index.htm
Stanford University (1989): lbre.stanford.edu/architect/campus_master_plan
Texas State University (2006): www.fss.txstate.edu/cmp/resources/membership.html
University of Utah (2008): www.facilities.utah.edu/staticcontent/facilitiesmanagement /files/pdf/SLC_Sp_Task_Force_09-11-08.pdf
David Spooner, ASLA, is an associate professor in the College of Environment and Design at the University of Georgia. He holds an undergraduate degree in horticultural science from North Carolina State University and a master's of landscape architecture from the University of Georgia. He is a licensed landscape architect in the states of Georgia and North Carolina with 14 years of private practice experience. His research interest broadly centers on how the built environment affects human behavior; in particular, he has spent the last few years conducting post-occupancy evaluations and behavior mapping studies of recently built campus spaces.
Figure 3 Walkway Length: Actual vs. Perceived Time (n=48) Walk Actual Actual Walking Average Perceived Differential Name Length Time Time A 1,210 feet 5:07 7:19 +2:14 B 1,223 feet 5:04 5:54 +:50 C 1,254 feet 5:14 6:44 +1:21 D 1,247 feet 5:18 6:21 +1:03 E 1,190 feet 4:55 5:50 +:55 F 1,287 feet 5:03 6:54 +1:51 Figure 4 Object and Overall Visual Ranking (1-5 Low to High) Category Walk A Walk B Walk C Walk D Architecture 2.9 3.3 4.8 3.9 Bench 3.4 3.7 3.2 3.3 Bicycle 1.7 3.2 3.0 3.1 Dumpster/Trashcan 1.0 1.2 2.2 2.0 Fence 4.0 3.1 -- -- Fountain -- 4.7 4.3 -- Grass 4.0 4.6 4.5 4.2 Historical marker 3 3.2 -- -- Lighting 2.7 2.9 3.0 2.2 Newspaper box -- 2.0 2.6 2.0 Parking 1.2 2.7 -- -- People 4.4 4.7 4.8 4.5 Plant material 4.4 4.6 4.8 4.0 Port-a-John 1.0 1.3 1.7 1.3 Scooter 3.0 2.9 -- -- Sidewalk 3.4 2.6 2.9 3.4 Signage 2.2 2.7 2.5 -- Stairs 3.0 2.9 3.0 3.2 Statue -- 3.8 -- -- Street 1.1 3.1 -- -- Tables -- 2.4 -- -- Traffic 0.7 2.0 -- -- Trash 1.9 1.6 1.2 1.0 Trees 4.1 4.8 4.3 4.2 Walls 3.0 2.5 -- -- Wildlife 4.3 5.0 4.4 4.0 Overall Ranking 2.7 4.0 4.1 4.0 Category Walk E Walk F Average Architecture 3.8 2.3 3.5 Bench 3.2 3.7 3.4 Bicycle 2.4 3.4 2.8 Dumpster/Trashcan 1.7 1.5 1.6 Fence 3.5 3.4 3.5 Fountain 4.1 -- 4.3 Grass 4.3 4.1 4.3 Historical marker 2.1 -- 2.8 Lighting 2.7 2.5 2.9 Newspaper box 2.7 2.5 2.4 Parking -- 1.0 1.6 People 4.4 4.3 4.5 Plant material 4.1 4.0 4.3 Port-a-John -- -- 1.3 Scooter 2.3 3.3 2.9 Sidewalk 3.1 2.2 2.9 Signage 3.4 2.0 2.6 Stairs 3.4 2.2 2.9 Statue -- -- 3.8 Street -- 1.5 1.9 Tables -- -- 2.4 Traffic -- 0.5 1.1 Trash 1.0 1.3 1.3 Trees 4.7 3.8 4.3 Walls -- 3.0 2.8 Wildlife 4.5 3.8 4.3 Overall Ranking 4.2 3.3 Figure 5 Average Scores for Object Rankings Strongly Positive Neutral Negative Strongly Positive Negative Fountains Architecture Bicycle Dumpsters Traffic Grass Benches Historical marker Parking People Fences Lighting Streets Plant Statues Newspaper box Trash material Shade Scooter Trees Sidewalk Wildlife Signage Stairs Tables Walls
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|Publication:||Planning for Higher Education|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2011|
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