Alessia Calafiore

Formal ontologies to support participatory urban planning through the prism of roles theory

Alessia Calafiore1,2, Stefano Borgo3, Nicola Guarino3, Guido Boella1

Dept. Computer science, University of Torino1; SnT, University of Luxembourg2; Laboratory for Applied Ontology (LOA), Trento3

The interplay between the built environment and human activities has always been of paramount interest in urban design and planning. In a vision that sees cities as designed large scale artefacts made up of various lower level artefacts such as buildings, streets, and parks, current theories of urban design tend to provide normative frameworks prescribing how to create spaces that people will use in a specific way. However, there are situations in which citizens claim their right to re-shape the city through collective actions. With this contribution we propose a formal ontology of social places based on the different roles urban artifacts may play. Notably, we distinguish among the functional role and the social role of urban artefacts. The functional role of artefactual objects composing the shape of the city emerges when they are considered as realizations of design specifications resulting from urban design plans. Indeed, design specifications are developed with the intent that their realisations will have the capability to perform a certain function. On the contrary, the social role of urban artefacts emerges from human collective activities which can be defined as social practices. These two roles may completely overlap or create conflicts in the use of urban spaces. Besides social places and artefactual functional roles, we need also to consider other semantic layers which mutually interact and generate the city as a complex system. Analyzing dynamic and interactive spatial processes must necessary involve at least the following components:

  • Geomorphological features, which affect design choices and, consequently, human activities;
  • Design layouts, which are influenced by the specific culture of different societies.

We believe that recognizing the coexistence of multiple roles, in the unique intersection between the geographic world and human cultures, can plant the seed for a new generation of information management systems supporting participative urban planning and governance.

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