Rats As City Planners!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 17:36


Rats have always been an integrated part of urban life whether we like it or not.
In the past considered vermin, pests and plague carriers today they are rising from the ranks. The Banksy rat-grafitti that decorates the streets of cities worldwide are widely recognized as a symbolic representation of the ‘underground’ city life and have become the passion of city dwellers near and far. An endearing little rat called Remy in the Disney production ‘Rataouille’ stole the hearts of children (and adults) all over the world as he successfully worked his way up from the Parisian gutter to become a celebrity chef in the heart of the French capital. Romantic but far from real!
However, the latest – and surprising – news on the furry rodents isn’t a representation or a fairy tale but a recent research carried out by Tel Aviv University zoologists and geographers: Prof. David Eilam and Prof. Juval Portugali that reveals how rats may actively partcipate in the reduction of expenditure and failures in the future of urban planning!


The researchers used rats from a rat laborartory to test city plans by studying their reactions and sense of orientation in cities. They released rats in mini-models of city layouts and observed their behaviour in order to determine the funtionality of theoretical existing plans.
Scientifically rats build cognitive maps to help orient themselves in nature, helping them to know where they are in space and time, similar to human orientation strategies. The researchers also blindfolded human biology students to confirm the similarity in their orientation patterns.
“We’ve found that routes taken by rats and other members of the animal kingdom tend to converge at attractive landmarks, the same way people are attracted, for example, to the Arc de Triumph in Paris,” says Prof. David Eilam from TAU’s Department of Zoology. “Our research takes the art used by humans to create their towns and cities and turns it back to the animal world for testing. We can look at how rats will react to a city’s geography to come up with an optimal urban plan.”
Results showed that rats prefer the grid-like city structure — such as that of Manhattan — above the unstructured, winding ones — such as that of New Orleans – because they establish a grid system to orient themselves and using this grid they are able to direct themselves and cover further distances in a shorter time, whereas in the unstructured plan they move round in circles covering less territory and in more time.


Prof. Eilam and his colleagues believe that this research will be useful to city planners for testing city plans.
“We’ve built an environment to test city plans, so that ‘soul-less’ and ineffective new neighborhoods won’t be built”. The team foresees that the rat’s choices will be optimized and plugged into a computer tool!

Please visit: http://www.aftau.org

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