Machine Space Table of Contents | Urban and Economic Geography Working Group | The Virtual Geography Department

Information for Instructors

Background reading

Instructor Preparation

Lesson Procedures and Schedule

Handouts -- Student instruction sheet

Slides and Overheads

In the exercise students will assess how much of a city's built environment is claimed by machine space, that is, space which is set aside primarily for the car and use of machines and in which machines have the right of way -- streets, parking lots, driveways, loading ramps, and service stations. In urban areas, most machine space consists of these types of automobile territory, but other machines do occupy large amounts of space including ventilation and air-conditioning systems and equipment for telephone, electical, water, and wastewater utility systems. Even railroads and airports occupy considerable amounts of space. Most people fail to perceive how much of the environment is given over to machines with obvious repercussions on environment and quality of life.

Suggested Background:

If you have not read Horvath's 1974 article, it is worth a quick look before you present this unit. Additional sources that will provide insight into this topic are:



The amount of preparation you will have to do as an instructor depends somewhat on what grade-level you teach. For Junior High and Highschool classes you will probably need to locate suitable map(s) of the study area(s), and enlarge and duplicate them. University-level students can be reasonably expected to procure these resources for themselves. Low-cost and free maps are available from municiple, county, state, and federal agencies, depending on the location you select. At The University of Texas we present this exercise in an introductory geographic methods class and we provide Internet links to several government agencies which have maps available to download in a variety of digital formats.

Grades 8-12:

You will want to prepare a minimum of two maps for the students. The first should cover a small area adjacent to your school, a site where you can go to demonstrate the field survey technique. The second should be the site the students will survey on their own. On both maps, mark the boundary of the area the students will survey.


You should find a site near your campus where you can demonstrate the field survey techniques. If you plan to use this as an introductory-level GIS or computer-cartography exercise, you should also be sure the appropriate digital files are available (don't have students survey an area for which digital geographic data do not already exist, unless you plan to have students create base files as part of the assignment).

Lesson Procedures and Schedules

This lesson can span two or three class sessions over a three-day period, depending on whether students survey their study area as homework or as part of a group class-time exercise. If the students perform their survey as homework, then it would be best to schedule the first day's events on Friday and the third day's events on the following Monday. Extra time should be allotted for laboratory work if this is used as a GIS or computer-cartography exercise.

Day 1

1. Give a brief overview of the topic of machine space, providing a definition of the term and of automobile territory. Touch upon the consequences of the dominance of machines in the city by pointing out how they affect environmental quality and the quality of life. Machines have an important impact on environmental quality in that they promote air and water pollution, and the space set aside for their use (impermeable groundcover such as concrete and asphalt) can alter urban hydrology leading, sometimes, to increased risks of flash flooding. Machines also are allowed to impinge on the quality of human life. Machine space is dangerous to humans and its spread disrupts many of our patterns of activity. On the other hand, modern urban life would be unthinkable without many of the machines we share the city with. Just imagine a Texas summer without air-conditioning!

Draw examples of the dominance and spread of machine space from your own knowledge or the osurces listed below in the further readings section. If you have slides or photographs of some instances of major effects (major highways, massive parking lots, utility equipment yards), use these to illustrate your points about machine space. A few images are presented in the slides section below.

2. Take the students to the study side adjacent to your school for which you have copied a map and demonstrate the means by which they will map machine space in their own study area.

3. (Optional) Divide the students into groups of 2-3 to complete their own study, either on Day 2 or as a homework assignment.

Day 2 or Homework

4. Have the students complete their independent survey. Depending on the size of the groups and grade level, they should complete a fieldmap of 5-15 blocks and have it ready for analysis during the next class session.

Day 3

5. Calculate the percentage of machine space in the study area.

GIS or computer cartography exercise: Have students digitize the machine space they noted during their field survey. A good strategy to follow is to provide large-scale (street-level) digital base maps and enter the machine space as a new layer (Atlas*GIS) or coverage (Arc/INFO or Arcview). You will have to do a bit of in-class customizing of the students' instructions to suit the particular software you use. Students should then calculate the area of the machine space as a percentage of the area of the study area.

Low-tech (non-computer based) exercise: When the students return to the classroom with their fieldmaps, have them calculate the percentage of machine space in their study areas by using either: 1) the overlay method with graph paper or a transparent grid; or 2) the cut-and-weigh method in which percentages are calculated on the basis of component paper weight.

6. Have the students present their findings, either as a brief written report or classroom presentation.

7. Hold a debriefing on the fieldwork and discuss what the students discovered. Begin by reviewing problems involved in surveying machine space and the major trends of the findings. Gradually encourage students to expand upon their descriptive findings to assess the magnitude of the effect of machine space on environmental quality and the quality of life. Attempt to have them generalize from their findings in their small area to the urban environment as a whole -- how machine space varies across the city in terms of landuse types (residential, commercial, public, etc.) Ask them for suggestions about how they would extend the study and why it might be important to comsider more fully the dominance of machines in the urban environment. Do the students believe that people let machines dominate our environment and their lives too much?

If you wish to continue the discussion for another class session, you may wish to use one of these questions for a creative writing assignment:


Student Instruction Sheet

Slides and Overheads