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A Model of Three Urban Fabrics


Draft 21.1.2014

A general model of a city

In the model of three urban fabrics, a simplified model and supplementary models are used to describe a city. The general model describes both the individual urban fabrics and the overall physical essence of the city. The general model is built on a basic layout that indicates the areas where the different urban fabrics are located and what their classification is. The objective is to identify and describe the physical coverage of each urban fabric, their dialectics and the degree to which they are blended, as well as the basic city type. To identify the dimensions of the urban fabrics, the basic dimensions are indicated with fixed-size dimensional circles. The dimensional circles serve as measurement elements that provide a comparable scale for the urban fabrics. The illustration becomes more significant and easily understandable when we add more detailed functional and qualitative descriptions to the urban fabrics. We can do this by using texts, charts, theme charts depicting various elements and characteristics, tables, and other illustrative material.

The classifications and measurements of the general model are based on the general characteristics of urban systems. It is our objective to have the classifications and measurements established both nationally and internationally. Hence the model could serve as a new, commensurate tool for urban analysis. Applications of the basic layout can be made for different types of town and cities of different sizes, where either the more detailed or the general classification are used. Depending on the use, the basic layout can also be supplemented with areas, elements, zones, networks etc. Supplementary measurement circles can be added. The basic idea, however, is to maintain the basic layout classifications and circle measurements as the framework.

The general model of the three urban fabrics has been compiled from the research materials and maps as well as models used for this study and the user experiences gained. The model classification and dimensioning was based on the "Kuopio Model", which has been in active use for two decades. During this UF project, the model has been tested, revised and expanded. It was first tested nationally in an analysis of the target cities, as a result of which several revisions and additions were made. International tools used to test and develop the model are presented elsewhere in this book.

Areas and dimensions of the urban fabrics

Factors contributing to the birth and history of urban fabrics include urban lifestyles and changes in them on the on hand, and the emergence and development of functional urban systems, particularly traffic systems, on the other. Together, these factors offer an explanation to the origin and development of the physical manifestations of urban fabrics, and to the location and dynamics of the various regions of urban fabrics.

The oldest of the urban fabrics, the walking city, can still be found in its original location at the heart of the city. Walking speed has not changed over time, therefore the dimensions of the walking city have also remained practically unaltered. In the model, the basic measurement of a walking city is an area within a one-kilometre radius. The outer walking city is located within a two-kilometre radius. In the model, these zones are called the walking city even though they feature many elements of other urban fabrics, or the fabrics may be strongly intertwined. The model also recognises walking city zones built up around the strongest sub-centres and major public facilities.

The transit system that sprang up in the wake of the second and third wave of urban development spreads around the city centre and the surrounding suburban area. The walking city is surrounded by an inner transit city, located within an eight-kilometre radius, and the outer transit city, located within a 20-kilometre radius. In the model, these zones are called the transit city even though they feature many elements of the car city, or the fabrics of the transit city and car city may be strongly intertwined.

The car city emerged in the fourth wave of urban development and has spread out on top and around the pre-existing urban fabrics. Peri-urban areas beyond the reach of the walking city and the transit city are identified in the model as car city regions.

Elements of the urban fabrics

The physical manifestation of cities features certain elements – each urban fabric has its own elements of urban structure and urban environment that make is easy to recognise. Each fabric may contain, in addition to elements specific to it alone, elements found in two or three fabrics but with fabric-specific properties. As a city evolves, the same element can change and serve as an element of different fabrics at different times.

It is important to recognise the elements of an unfamiliar urban fabric in the different regions. Some of these are neutral with regard to the main fabric, or complement it. Others may have negative impacts – even grave ones in the worst-case scenario. Examination of the elements of urban fabrics must take account of the elements that have the greatest impact on individual urban fabrics and thereby on the development of the entire city.

All cities feature elements that are common to all urban fabrics, such as festival squares, sports centres etc. that are not part of any individual urban fabric. They are usually located in a central location in the walking city, or in another easily accessible location.

Typical elements of a walking city include pavements and pedestrian crossings, as well as streets and squares in active use. The best walking cities also offer comfortable housing for those who do not have a car, and a city centre that serves the employees of easily accessible workplaces and those using the services available in the centre.

In a transit city, typical elements include local train stations and tram and bus stops. Other important elements include pavements and pedestrian crossings, as well as streets and squares in active use. The best transit city regions feature a clear purpose-designed structure and good transit city elements such as comfortable housing for those without a car, a sub-centre offering good services to local residents, people working in the region, visitors etc.

Typical elements of a car city include single-family homes, passages and junctions, sales outlets, strip malls and office buildings with ample parking space, as well as parking lots and parking garages. There are also some smaller elements that might not be recognised as elements of the car city, such as buses. The peri-urban regions of the major cities also have rail traffic, which is an element of the transit city.

Characteristics of the urban fabrics

Each urban fabric has its specific characteristics by which they can be recognised and located. One characteristic used in the classification of the fabrics is suitability for living if you do not own a car. The walking city and the transit city are suitable residential areas for those without a car, and this is a key characteristic of those fabrics. Meanwhile the car city differs drastically from the walking city and the transit city, as it is not suitable to people who do not have a car. In a car city, people without a car can only get by in special areas that feature a sufficient number of transit or walking city elements in their vicinity.

The characteristics used for classification can depict the development stage or quality of the fabric, and in this sense they can be used as indicators. The characteristics and the current state of the urban fabrics can be described and assessed using all general attributes, time series and indicators, such as population and economic structure indicators, efficiency rates, health impacts, energy consumption etc.

Use of the model

The prototype of the three urban fabrics model, the "Kuopio Model", has been used as a town planning tool for almost two decades. The user experiences gained have been positive; use of the model has resulted in new co-operative practices and excellent implementations. The model has proven to be a useful tool in the recognition and follow-up of urban fabrics, in target-setting, strategic planning, planning work, decision-making and implementation.

Applications of the general model

The general model provides a framework for modelling a city. Depending on the situation and the needs being addressed, applications of the model can and should be created that are best suited for each purpose. Basic applications include analysis models that can be used to monitor ongoing development; special models to be used for addressing and assessing specific current issues in a city; and target models that help to identify and assess future alternatives and to define strategic development policies.

A new tool

Recognition of urban fabrics based on the model of three urban fabrics, and a discussion of each fabric is required in studies that compare different cities, and in follow-up studies conducted by urban regions and cities. The model offers an efficient tool for the preparation of strategies and programmes, structural plans and zoning plans, and special plans with general features. Once the urban fabrics have been recognised, each of them can be studied separately and compared to one another. They can also be observed from the perspective of time series, and compared to similar urban fabrics in other cities. This examination provides a versatile and understandable picture of the situation and any changes under way.

The model of the three urban fabrics can be used to examine individual regions or objects. In this case, the first thing is to identify the location, scope and role of the region or object being examined in relation to other urban fabrics. The main thing is to identify the strongest urban fabric and, consequently, the main classification. This provides a foundation for identifying other urban fabrics both in terms of component parts and individual elements. The easiest task is to identify and analyse regions in one urban fabric. The most complicated and demanding task is to analyse regions where the different urban fabrics have become intermingled and begin to evolve in different directions.