A city is a complex system. Studying one calls for knowledge and skills and a systematic approach. In our study we combine numerical or quantitative research with qualitative research from the perspective of urbanites. We compare the results from different areas in order to make general statements that are valid for the entire city. This gives us a thorough and broad insight into the dynamics of urban areas.
LIVING ENVIRONMENT ANALYSIS: LOCAL CONTEXT IN THE PICTURE
The main purpose of the living environment analysis is to gain an insight into the context in which people live, looking at aspects such as education, housing, care, assistance, participation and welfare. This local context determines the success or failure of plans and policies. Municipal subsidies to merge housing have a different effect in the one neighbourhood than the other; this depends on population composition, housing typologies, housing preferences and house prices.
The living environment analysis forms the basis of almost all of Veldacademie's research. It is a structured approach that enables us to understand the city on several levels (multi-level analysis). We use a phased approach in which we first gather broad factual information and then conduct more focused research into the perspective of users. By collecting both objective information - such as the number of moves in a neighbourhood - and subjective information - such as what people think of their home - about the neighbourhood, it is possible to gain a more nuanced image of urban life and thus to arrive at more appropriate solutions. We share the results with the field in images and text and through our training courses.
Plotting data on a map with the GIS analysis
More and more urban data is becoming available for research. For example, the municipality of Rotterdam has detailed information about housing, demography, safety, traffic and the environment. By means of geographical information system (GIS) we can bring data and places together in urban analyses and district analyses. In this way we can make connections between the geographical distribution of different data. For example, we can see where most elderly people live in a neighbourhood and whether they live near shops and public transport. And whether there are enough accessible homes available in the area. This is very important to establishing what to take into account when intervening in a specific area.
Huisvesting-Programma-Context (HPC): a calculation model
The HPC calculation model is a quantitative analysis method in which we relate data about housing to data about programming and the local context of a building. This calculation model was first worked up for our study into scenarios for sheltered housing in the sectors nursing and care, mental health care and care for the disabled. Based on HPC data, we were able to classify housing locations according to future expectations. Will that nursing home soon be empty or will it remain in full operation? Is the location easy to rent out if vacated or does it need to be transformed? What significance does a location have for the neighbourhood, or can be given in the future? The HPC model can answer questions such as these because it links the physical characteristics of the building to the programme and the local context, such as the layout of a neighbourhood and the level of facilities.
Motion and mobility charted with GPS tracking
GPS tracking allows us to quantitatively investigate the behaviour of the city user. This method involves giving city users a GPS receiver for a certain period of time. If we combine the data on how they move around the city with questions about daily destinations, we can gather interesting information about the use of public space and mobility. How far do the elderly walk, for example, which routes do they prefer, and why? Or how do residents of high-rise homes use the city centre? Where do they do their daily shopping? Do they use the public space in the city centre or do they use their apartment mainly as a place to sleep and work, and spend the day in another city? This is important information for aligning policies.
Projects with GPS tracking have been carried out in collaboration with TU Delft/ Stefan van der Spek.
QUALITATIVE DATA COLLECTION
There are many ways to look into how people experience living in the city. First, just by observing. For example, looking at behaviour, sitting in one place and watching people come and go, what they do, how they use the space. Or looking at which cultures are found in an area by charting all the cultural symbols, such as a Portuguese flag, a shop name in Turkish or a Surinamese mosque. Good observation is structured and precise, which means you need to know what you want to focus on.
Interviews and focus groups
Gaining an insight into the perception of urban dwellers and the motivation behind living patterns is essential to gaining a clear understanding of urban issues such as the ageing population, the local economy and mobility. For example, it is important to know the purpose for which people travel, because people make very different demands on the outdoor space when they are travelling for work than when they are walking their dog. Interviews, surveys and focus groups help to gain an insight into people's motives. In a focus group, a group of people led by the researcher have a conversation about a specific subject. Not only the answers to questions, but also the interaction between participants provides a wealth of information. Participants are specifically chosen for the subject and could be people over the age of 65, or parents who talk about the child-friendliness of their neighbourhood.
Visual stimulation method and mental maps
The visual stimulation method allows participants in a research project to photograph aspects of their living environment. We have a conversation based on these photos. The photographs show aspects of the living environment that are usually difficult to put into words and say more about the context. This method was applied in collaboration with TNO in a large-scale study into the housing needs of elderly people in Kralingen-Crooswijk.
Another tried and tested method is to have people draw their neighbourhoods. These 'mental maps' tell us a lot about the district through how someone draws the district, and also what they leave out. For example, a church tower may be an important reference point that many people draw because they orient themselves to it when they walk through the neighbourhood.
Research by design
Research by design is the term used for design research. This is usually done by creating design variants that explore the boundaries of what is possible and can make the often abstract, future outcomes transparent and understandable. We use research by design when there are many problems at once and there is not one optimal answer. During the design process questions are clarified, but aspects that were previously overlooked also become visible. This is an iterative process that opens people to discovering new possibilities.
Research by design an intensive form of research, but the results are all the more imaginative and offer more integrated solutions. Research by design calls for space for experimentation and is therefore very suitable in relation to education, such as the Architecture programmes at the Faculty of Architecture at Delft University of Technology or the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture.
The research results are intended for a broad target group. It is therefore important that outcomes are clearly readable and easily divisible. The Veldacademie makes frequent use of visualisation techniques such as cartography, diagrams and illustrations. Research data related to an area (e.g. annotated maps) is also visualised in the reports.