Assessing urban design: Historical ambience on the waterfront

Richard Wayne Berman, University of Pennsylvania


The dissertation touches on issues of urban design, planning, architecture, historic preservation and tourism. However, only a few questions are at the core of this research. How do people perceive urban design? What is it about the design that influences our perceptions? What is it about ourselves that leads us to 'read' shared settings differently? I have approached these questions from two directions: (1) A reflective consideration of three bodies of literature: urban design, preservation, and tourism. The authors selected allow for a variety of insights into the perception and awareness of the built environment. (2) An empirical study of 'lay' respondents at waterfront sites in Philadelphia and Yokohama. Two exploratory photo surveys have been completed, one in Philadelphia (USA) and the other in Yokohama (Japan). They were designed to gather, quickly and efficiently, user knowledge of an area. The photo survey technique has a number of potential uses, all related to supplementing expert knowledge by gaining responses from a larger cross section of an area's users. This study has shown a strong tie between demographics and preferences for a series of specific evaluative categories of urban design in the waterfront areas of Philadelphia and Yokohama. Increasing age appears to correspond to increasing preference for some type of historical ambience in both the U.S. and Japanese survey groups. Within Philadelphia, increasing education level also showed a strong correlation to increasing preference for historical ambience. This was not tested in the Yokohama Survey, but the significant correlation in Philadelphia indicates that it may be a strong determining factor of preference in other locations as well. The age of appearance (historical ambience) of a structure or district is a significant factor in various demographic groups' preferences. It can serve as a supporting factor in guiding the conservation and change of the physical fabric of the city. That significant correlations are found to exist within demographic groups for these evaluative categories at all, may prove equally important. This suggests the importance of planning not just for a general public in these areas, but for a particular demographic target mix whenever possible.

Subject Area

Urban planning|Area planning & development|Architecture

Recommended Citation

Berman, Richard Wayne, "Assessing urban design: Historical ambience on the waterfront" (1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9926096.