This is a model of the spatial infrastructure of Great Britain (and will soon include Northern Ireland to become a model of the United Kingdom). It allows us to zoom in and out on cities, towns and villages as well as the connections between them. It also lets us understand the hierarchy of connections at different scales – which routes are more important at a local, pedestrian scale and which are more important at a cross-country, car scale. More important routes are coloured red, then orange and green to less well connected routes in blue.
The colours are created by a computer program that calculates how likely it is that any route will be travelled along by people going from anywhere to anywhere else. The program tries many different kinds of journeys: longer ones right across the UK to shorter ones within local neighbourhoods. By doing so it simulates the real nature of movement in the UK: some is longer-distance and some shorter.
Origins of the model
My colleagues and I at Space Syntax have developed this model because we passionately believe that the practice of planning needs support through more effective, science-based tools. This particular tool allows us to simultaneously think about local as well as global journeys between places. It lets us analyse pedestrian, cycle and car journeys at the same time and within a single modelling framework. There is no other model that does so. Our plan is for the model to be disseminated into urban planning practice so that practitioners can use it in a hands-on way first, to understand how places are currently working and then to plan change. By using the model, people can clearly see the impact of the proposed change.
We are dissatisfied with the current situation in the delivery of urban infrastructure in the United Kingdom which is led predominantly by transport modelling that prioritises the car. This approach has created car-dependent development that isolates people who either can’t drive, don’t have access to a car or prefer not to drive. Our argument is that you get what you are given and what people have been given by the spatial planning industry is based on models that only assess car journeys. We haven’t had cycling models; we haven’t had pedestrian models. It’s no surprise then that we have poor pedestrian infrastructure and poor cycle infrastructure. We have housing estates cut off from shopping centres.
Using this model we can now think about providing infrastructure that works for all modes of movement. Our experience shows that this leads to more sustainable places that deliver financial returns and create social conviviality.