Your brain on streets
The above images represent an analysis of two residential suburban streets, and answer the question of which one is likely to attract and interest more pedestrians.
Aside from the fact that the one on the right has more sidewalks, the immediate human cognitive perception of these streets is quite different. The automobile-oriented street on the left directs viewers to look straight ahead to a visual vanishing point, and then to the treetops. This is perfect for fast driving, but not as interesting for pedestrians—as the view does not change for a long time at four miles per hour. The one on the right directs attention to the close-in details of the houses, porches, and columns, a scene that is constantly changing as one walks down the street. This attention is subliminal and takes place within 3-5 seconds, before more abstract thinking kicks in.
This analysis was featured on the blog The Genetics of Design by Ann Sussman, an architect and co-author of Cognitve Architecture: Designing for How We Respond to the Built Environment, and Janice Ward, a writer, web designer, and education advocate. The quick analysis was made with 3M’s VAS (Visual Attention Software), prepared with Justin B. Hollander at Tufts, and supported by the Devens Enterprise Commission. The work by Sussman and Hollander, the co-author of Cognitive Architecture, is important for those designing human-scale places because it provides scientific support for the intuitive sense of what makes places walkable, and offers a way around arguments over architecture and urban design theory.