Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

An Empirical Test of Pedestrian Activity Theories Within Informal Settlements

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Abstract:  Pedestrian activity is often measured in the formal parts of cities, yet it has rarely been studied in informal settlements, although they are typically adjacent to formal areas and residents participate in formal urban life. Route optimization and space syntax are two pedestrian activity theories that can be applied to predict path usage in urban areas. These theories have been tested in formal cities, but are they applicable in understudied informal settings? Using motion sensors, we measure pedestrian activity in a Cape Town informal settlement in the early morning and evening hours and test which theory best explains the sensor measurements. Route optimization is weakly correlated with average pedestrian activity, while space syntax performs even more poorly in predicting pedestrian activity. The predictive power of both theoretical calculations further varies by time of day. We find that both theories perform worst at the entrances/exits of the informal settlement—that is, the border between informal and formal. These results indicate that daily movement patterns in informal settlements may differ from formal areas and that the connection between the formal and informal city requires further study to better understand how pedestrian activity links these two types of areas. A new theory of route selection based on such an understanding, which also better incorporates the specific characteristics of informal urban settlements—such as high density, narrow, and constantly changing streets primarily used by residents—may be necessary to understand the needs of pedestrians within informal settlements as compared to formal areas.

Keywords:  informal settlement; nighttime activity; pedestrian; route optimization; sensor; space syntax


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© Yael Borofsky, Stephanie Briers, Isabel Günther. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.