The Urban Network Analysis (UNA) Toolbox combines a number of geospatial and flow analysis methods in order to model the various habits of a town’s inhabitants. The aim is to help launch town-planning programmes.

How can we decide the best locations to build housing or offices, or encourage commercial growth in a given urban area? MIT has developed a programme  – the UNA Toolbox – which analyses urban networks to help architects, local authorities and town planners better understand the needs of a town’s inhabitants. The aim is to enable them to model people’s spatial movements within a town and see how these change over time. According to Andres Sevtsuk, the project’s lead researcher, these tools "help explain for instance in which streets or buildings one is most likely to find local commerce, in which area foot or vehicular traffic is expected to be highest, and why city land values vary from one location to another."

Understanding the complexity of the urban mesh

This means taking into account the overall geometry and distances of urban zones and transport routes, plus the buildings themselves. Each building can be weighted according to various criteria: how voluminous it is, the number of occupants, or its impact on the surrounding buildings. From a technical point of view, the system combines geospatial and urban environment analysis programmes.  One, for example, measures how many destinations can be reached from a particular building within a given walking radius. Another programme can assess how accessible a building is, taking into account its attractiveness and its distance from other buildings in the area.  

Helping local authorities and architects

A third programme calculates the number of people passing through a given area, while a fourth focusses on the physical space between each building. Yet another programme determines the shortest way between two points following the actual roads and streets, and then compares this data with the time needed to cover the same distance ‘as the crow flies’. Putting all these elements together should enable planners to quantify how centrally a building is positioned in the urban environment and how easily a person can access various amenities from each location.