Three students from Architecture & Design at Aalborg University are heading to Auckland, New Zealand to study how people use the city’s space. Using questionnaires and new technology, the aim is to make tomorrow’s large cities better places to live.

In February, three students working on their master’s thesis—June Gina Heiselberg, Rikke Guldhammer Mogensen and Michael Vestergaard Thomsen—travel to Auckland, New Zealand, a city with a population of over one million. Armed with traditional questionnaires and new digital technologies, they will attempt to map how some of the inhabitants use the city’s public spaces.

– The city’s physical space plays a big role in relation to how we behave towards each other, says Michael Vestergaard Thomsen. We would like to help improve the existing space, and we believe that creating more social urban spaces can create better cities where the individual resident has it better.


The term liveability describes how good a city is as a place to live. Every year, the world’s major cities are ranked by organizations like The Economist, Mercer and Monocle based on various parameters ranging from how well the infrastructure works and how traffic flows to the risk of being exposed to crime, the range of cultural offerings, the degree of pollution and the green environment.

Liveability has become an important competitive parameter for cities when it comes to attracting labor, businesses and new investment, and there is therefore a lot of focus on those at the top the lists that are updated annually.

– An ISO certification has just been published that one might fear becomes the standard for how cities are ranked from now on. The certification measures how good cities are to live in primarily based on quantifiable factors such as how many square meters of green areas are in a city, and to a lesser extent on qualitative studies and interviews with residents. The latter, we think, are equally important, and that is something we can do with some of the digital options that have emerged in recent years, explains Michael Vestergaard Thomsen.


A part of the Danish students’ investigation will be done with several hundred students at the University of Auckland downloading an application for their smartphone that registers their movements around the city.
Every time they enter an area that the Danish students have selected as something they want to focus on – for example a park – the participant receives a short questionnaire on their phone with questions about why he or she is going into the park, what they think about it, whether they think there are too few or too many trees and so on.

– We can combine the questionnaire responses with knowledge of where the users are and how they move around. This way we get a very precise picture of how the city is being used and where people actually spend their time, explains Michael Vestergaard Thomsen. – At the same time, we also have the opportunity to involve them directly and get them to interact with us; for example, we may ask them to tell us about their favorite place and send a picture of it to us through the phone.


According to Monocle Magazine, Auckland is in ninth place in terms of pleasant cities to live in, while Copenhagen is somewhat higher up as number three.

– Auckland is a young city that is based on the American model—in other words, a driving city, whereas the large Danish cities were planned before cars were invented. This means that Auckland is fundamentally different because it was founded based on the premise that you drive around in it instead of walk, says Michael Vestergaard Thomsen. So it is interesting for the master’s students to investigate whether the social relations that arise in the city influence how pleasant the city is to live in.


– In our master’s thesis, we of course would like to prove that we can travel to the other side of the world and do this type of study. And if we end up with a result that they can use in Auckland, we see it as a success, says Michael Vestergaard Thomsen. He believes that the most accurate picture of how liveable a city is requires that the certifications we use today be supplemented by the type of user survey that the three students will conduct in Auckland.

– We believe that we need to combine the technical quantifications with some of the softer values in order to get the best result; you can’t design future cities based solely on an ISO standard of the type presented recently. Instead, we would like to see design-based reasoning based on a clear idea of what matters to the well being of inhabitants and where things need to be placed so that resources are used properly. This is because urban planning often calls for resource-intensive efforts.


Read more about the three students and follow them on the website www.liveableauckland.dk.


Original source: Aalborg University