How Can Citizens Visualise How Their Neighbourhoods Look, Sound and Smell?

How Can Citizens Visualise How Their Neighbourhoods Look, Sound and Smell?

BRIEF

To identify and map interfaces of interaction between the 'city and nature' in order to find scope for design intervention through nature to bring about symbolic, emotional, physical or social changes in human behaviour.

This was a subjective analysis done to explore methods of representation and mapping. The applications of these methods of visualisation can henceforth be extended to represent empirical data that is collected using sound and olfactory sensors, in order to assess the presence of ‘nature’ in urban environments.

 

Having citizens map and analyse their living environments can encourage social interaction and active contribution. Insights from these assessments can aid governing bodies in budgeting for urban green spaces. It also helps change-makers understand contexts better through people that belong to the area.

Exposure to nature has consistently been proven to reduce oxidative stress and show positive impact on humans.1

With the rise of designer habitats and citizen scientists, ecologists and the general public will play a broader role in evaluating and managing green spaces.2

 

Since the presence of nature in urban spaces increases its liveability and as citizen participation can drive change to improve living conditions, what tools can we use to assess and visualise natural interfaces in our spaces?

Meudon, Île-de-France, France 92190 

May 2020, Confinement

INTRODUCTION

An interface is a point where two systems, subjects, organisations, etc. meet and interact. 

A human-nature interface, with the same logic, is a point where humans interact with nature.

From a bird’s eye perspective, the chosen area depicts that the human/nature interface divides the area in two halves. This is the division between the green cover and civilisation.

 

The macro-interfaces were identified by their geographical contours. The banks of the Seine River have had human intervention, therefore the contour of the interface is not organic, as opposed to the contours between the forest and the residential area.

Interfaces are often understood as palpable surfaces. However, to evaluate natural interfaces in all its essence, I visualised their presence through visual, olfactory and auditory perceptions.

This analysis provides insight into micro-interfaces between humans and nature.

Senseable Map Design

The trail I chose traversed through the residential area, commercial spots and green public spaces. I recorded sounds, took photographs and made notes about the sounds, smells and visuals that I perceived.

Auditory Analysis

The trail was broken up into 17 parts and the recorded sounds were synthesised into three broad categories:

Categories were made by clubbing the list of sounds into categories of origin; Interesting questions were raised at the time of categorizing:

 

If birds chirping is a natural sound then should ‘human-chatter’ be placed under human sounds or natural sounds?

If the sound from using a leaf-blower falls into ‘machines’ then why should practicing a harp come under sounds of ‘humans’?

 

I answered these questions by simply considering that sounds that are made by humans through direct contact with the source (sounds of cutlery on ceramic plates, playing a flute) would fall into the ‘human’ category and sounds made as a by-product of a simple or complex machine performing a function (a blender, a vacuum cleaner) would fall into ‘machines’. But, sounds from a radio or television would be considered human, as their purpose is to create sound.

 

Whereas, for a bird's chirp v/s human chatter, I considered 'nature' as an entity that would exist without human-intervention. This is to say that demarcations like these are idiosyncratic and will vary greatly with cultural and philosophical contexts.

Categories were made by clubbing the list of sounds into categories of origin; Interesting questions were raised at the time of categorizing:

Whereas, for a bird's chirp v/s human chatter, I considered 'nature' as an entity that would exist without human-intervention. This is to say that demarcations like these are idiosyncratic and will vary greatly with cultural and philosophical contexts.

Representation

The x-axis represents the path and the y-axis is the perceived loudness of the array of sounds which were marked by a subjective measurement of loudness.

Olfactory Analysis

The smells identified on this trail were also categorised into three groups for ease of visualisation.

The visual tool used here was carefully chosen so as to show overlapping and fading- two characteristics noticed while perceiving dissipated odours.

Visual Analysis

The smells identified on this trail were also categorised into three groups for ease of visualisation.

I have attempted to identify human-nature interfaces while keeping a close eye on intrusion of nature into human made artifacts and vice versa. I have mapped each space with its olfactory and auditory synthesis in order to add layers to the character of the landscapes. 

Interfaces here are the imaginary visual lines that divide the living from the non-living. The frontier between the concrete and the greenery would hence be an interface. The different scales of these interfaces are formed by planters, green balconies, pots, weeds.

 

It is also important to mention that interesting relationships can be inferred from attempting to represent these interactions using symbols.

Juxtaposition and Ambiguity in Interfaces

The picture below represents the complexities in demarcating natural interfaces from architecture. At each scale, nature/human interfaces switch depending on the context in question.

Mapping interfaces from the urban environment through perceptions can increase a community’s awareness of their living spaces. On a city-scale, comparing visuals like these, of multiple neighbourhoods can help identify their relative livability and evaluate the benefits of having larger green spaces.

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