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K-State Today

December 13, 2016



Orsi investigates human behavior and attitudes in urban settings

By Sarah Hancock

By 2050, 70 percent of the world's population will be living in urban areas. Design of cities that maintain acceptable density while ensuring an adequate provision of green space is a challenge. Francesco Orsi, assistant professor of geography, is developing a model to assist in the planning of such cities.

Orsi's project aims to support the design of better cities by enhancing current knowledge about the relationship between population density and the provision of green space as well as by exploring people's sensitivity to these variables. He is using spatial modeling tools to map population density and green space for the 10 largest U.S. cities and to define acceptable levels of densification. Orsi aims to help cities balance the advantages and disadvantages of population density. Denser settlements can reduce energy consumption and limit costs of services like trash collection and fire protection, but they also can impose social burdens. Given the growing world population and needs for affordable housing, however, densification is necessary to achieve sustainable settlements. 

"The project is particularly relevant in a time when cities are seeing their population increase and there is a strong call for the definition of urban agglomerations that can accommodate more people while maintaining an acceptable size and adequate green spaces," Orsi said.

Orsi has a manuscript detailing his urban design model under review in Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, and he is preparing another manuscript. He presented "Designing cities that favor easy access to a center and green space: A modelling approach" at the Great Plains Rocky Mountains Regional Meeting of the American Association of Geographers in October and "The quest for nature in urban contexts: Modelling emerging patterns in a virtual city" at the association's annual meeting earlier this year. He also delivered a K-State Natural Resource and Environmental Sciences seminar, "Access to nature in urban areas," in October and will present mapping results at the 2017 American Association of Geographers meeting in Boston.

Orsi employed four undergraduate students — Livia Cirnu, Luke Finley, Nick Meng and Takuto Urano — as research assistants to help complete the geospatial analyses his project requires. 

"Students are key to the success of this project, to which they have contributed a total of 400 hours so far. Based on their advanced knowledge of Geographic Information Systems, they have been able to process an incredible amount of data, exploring census figures and aerial photographs to estimate perceived density and measure the accessibility of green areas. This is the kind of information we need to understand how our cities work and where they could be improved," Orsi said. 

Charles W. Martin, head of the geography department, said Orsi's work contributes to an area of strength at K-State. 

"Dr. Orsi's work is at the cutting edge of our understanding about the importance of green spaces in urban areas. The research combines a sophisticated geospatial model with his extensive knowledge of human attitudes about sustainable design and green areas," Martin said. 

"It advances the department's growing strength in geospatial modeling," he said. 

This project was supported by the geography department in the College of Arts and Sciences and a University Small Research Grant from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs in fall 2015.