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Discrete Dynamics in Nature and Society
Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 87-93

Deliberate ambiguity in a finite environment: The urban ecology of artificial items

Department of Geography, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon S7N O WO, SK, Canada

Received 30 May 1999

Copyright © 2000 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


A distinction is made between visual declaration and virtual usage of artificial items within a physical environment, such as a street. Visual declaration is a formal pictorial designation, or a function, e.g. “decoration,” of an item, such as a “planter.” Virtual usage refers to the item when it is used in lieu of another item. The formal designation, “sitting,” customarily designated to an item such as “bench,” could also be a virtual usage of the item “planter.” The question asked is, “What is the relationship between items, given their formal, visual declaration and their informal, virtual, usage?” An artificial item, according to its visual declaration, is referred to as a ‘visual’ or ‘real item’. Each visual item has the property of being used as another item by virtue of its undeclared usage. Pending on the item's design and configuration, a visual item can be then substituted for another visual item. An artificial item, thus, attains deliberate ambiguity between its formal designation and its virtual usage. This ambiguity between visual declaration and virtual usage can be quantified. Within the full domain of n possible usages, this relationship can be conveniently presented in a nonnegative matrix. It is shown that the inverse of this matrix belongs to a class of well-known matrices. This being the case, the relationship between visual and virtual properties of items within the environment can be formalized. The formalization throws further light on the emerging opportunities in streetscape design.