Car owners look at shared urban courtyards differently from pedestrians

National Research University Higher School of Economics

Researchers from HSE University and St. Petersburg State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering (SPSUACE) used eye tracking to study how residents who own cars and those who don’t look at the shared courtyards of multistorey apartment buildings. The study was published in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.

In many countries, new urban districts are full of lifeless parking lots and there is almost no greenery. And while urban residents like spending time in green parks, they continue to accept the barren courtyards of new housing developments.

The study by HSE University and SPSUACE used eye-tracking technology to study how residents perceive the shared courtyards of apartment buildings.

The researchers took two groups of participants—those who own a car and those who don’t—and showed them images of shared courtyards, asking the subjects to evaluate their attractiveness. A total of 20 car owners and 20 people who did not own a car took part in the study.

The researchers found that the longer people looked at trees (greenery), the more attractive the courtyards seemed to them. And vice versa: the longer they looked at parking lots, the more unattractive they found the area. Computational data analysis confirmed the correlation between the time spent looking at trees and the courtyards’ attractiveness, with an opposite negative effect from looking at parking lots. On average, a twofold increase in attention to greenery makes a courtyard about 30% more attractive.

Car owners found courtyards full of parking spaces and no trees less unappealing than those who don’t own a car. But among car owners, the correlation between the time spent looking at trees and their evaluation of a courtyard as particularly attractive turned out to be the strongest. Greenery impacted car owners 33% stronger than participants without cars.

‘The results demonstrate an internal conflict in urban residents who own a car: on the one hand, they are interested in additional parking spaces, but still value greenery highly. Resolving such internal tensions in various groups of urban residents will likely help return cosy green courtyards to our cities,’ said Vasily Klucharev, the project’s coordinator and Director of the HSE Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience.

‘Architects often underestimate the importance of green spaces during construction planning. Together with an HSE laboratory, we used a contemporary method of eye tracking to study the urban residents’ attention. Our results have confirmed that the more attention people pay to green spaces, the more positively they evaluate urban districts. Such studies are extremely important for changing the philosophy of architects and developers, for understanding the preferences of residents and potential conflicts between different groups of residents,’ said Nadezhda Kerimova, co-author of the paper, Associate Professor at the Department of Architectural Design, SPSUACE.

‘In our studies, we are trying to get to the bottom of why we accept the concrete of modern construction and forget that green spaces in cities are necessary, first of all, for our health. Trees decrease air pollution, protect us from noise and heat, decrease the chances of cardiological and psychological disorders. Furthermore, Canadian researchers recently proved that having ten more trees in a city block improves health perception in ways comparable to being seven years younger. That’s why we will make sure to continue our studies of how green space development impacts people,’ added Vasily Klucharev.

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