Weekly update

24-30th January 2011
Travel to Portland, Oregon.

Portland Bright Lights presentation From highways to handshakes.

Open source urban planning software meeting with Fregonese Associates.

Portland City Council meeting with officials from planning, transportation and the Mayor’s office.

Lecture at Portland State University.

Meeting with Ankrom Moisan Architects.

Meeting with Metro regional government planning officials, TriMet (regional transit organisation).

Dinner with Portland Loeb Fellows.

Travel to Boston.

“Dharavi: Slum for Sale” film screening at the Harvard GSD.


Dinner with Loeb Fellows.

Meeting to discuss establishment of Space Syntax affiliate office in Germany.

Portland: city of hub and spoke centrality

Thank you to all the people that kindly hosted me in Portland over the past three days: Portland Bright Lights, the City of Portland, Portland State University, Ankrom Moisan and Portland TriMet. Thank you to everyone that came to hear me speak – five talks in three days was a challenge that I was happy to accept. To those of you who came more than once, I salute your interest as well as your patience.  

My first presentation, “From highways to handshakes” is now online.

Continue reading

Technology & Serendipity: Stumbling in the City

Monday, 31st January at 6:30pm
Stubbins Room, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Loeb Fellowship Spring Seminars
Much, Much More with Much, Much Less

The Loeb Fellows invite… 
Ethan Zuckerman, Senior Researcher, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society  
Moderated by Nicco Mele, Adjunct Lecturer, Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Founder of EchoDitto

For thousands of years, social networks have been transacted in the physical space of buildings and cities. Facebook and Twitter have changed the landscape of transaction. To what degree is this a good thing? Do digital networks create new, unexpected and beneficial forms of transaction? Or, do they just reinforce ties with people we already know? Do these digital interactions change the ways that people behave in physical space? How should urban planners and designers be responding? Continue reading

Dharavi – slum for sale

Notes from screening at Harvard GSD

The key issue is employment, not housing. Need to retain micro-industry as well as housing.

Resident’s comment on high rise housing proposal (but no clear proposal for providing places of work): “Will the oxygen up there fill our stomachs?”

Industry generates 750 million dollars per annum. Dharavi therefore as an economic object. Much of the economy is informal.

Redevelopment as a step backwards because people can’t continue their previous trade and have to shift to new trades – “lift men and doorkeepers”

“Let people build for themselves – give them water not money.”

SPARC:  Don’t leave it to the international developers.

The proposed redevelopment is not just professionally poor but morally poor because it raises expectations among the poor. The plan should instead be done by the municipality.

One objective should be to see Dharavi as a test case of dense, mixed use, low carbon community.

The lack of evidence seems important. Proposals being made in a vacuum of knowledge.

Bryan Bell – need to tap into social capital there rather than turn up in a Mercedes. 

Weekly update

17-23rd January 2011
Boston/Cambridge spatial modelling & analysis with Ed Parham in preparation for presentations on Tuesday.

Boston, City Hall Plaza meeting with Kairos Shen, Planning Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Cambridge City Council meeting with Community Development Department.

Meeting with Ethan Zuckerman and Chee Pearlman in preparation for Loeb Fellowship seminar on Technology at the Harvard Graduate School of Design on 31st January.

EP presenting “Planning the unplanned” evening talk at the Harvard GSD.

Dinner with Ed Parham, Jim Stockard, Loeb Fellows and Loeb Alumni.

Meeting with Nicco Mele in preparation for Loeb Fellowship seminar on Technology at the Graduate School of Design on 31st January.  

Course presentations at the Harvard GSD.

Studio presentations at the Harvard GSD.

Meeting with Rahul Mehrotra’s Mumbai studio at the Harvard GSD.

Meeting with Randy Gragg to prepare for next week’s visit to Portland.

The pace of change – is “online” a reflection of “urban”?

One of the challenges in achieving an integration of thinking between hackers and urbanists is the rate of change online. Will the massive experimentation currently underway on the internet continue at a pace, or settle down as norms are established and protocols emerge? Perhaps the same protocols that make it possible for people to live in cities. We sometimes call them “manners” or “cultural norms” and we know when they are being broken. Equally so, we call them street networks and we generally understand now to navigate them. We don’t all have to follow manners and streets but they offer a guide to behaviour and they make the difference between structured living and chaos.

How social networking protocols are established online will, in return, influence the social dynamic of future city living, perhaps as much as the efforts of planners and architects to structure social encounter by virtue of where we place things (buildings) and how we connect them together (streets, utilities and transport networks). This is because the people using online space and the people using urban space are the same people. Continue reading

Architecting the unexpected

“Serendipity”: it’s what cities have always provided but online environments only sometimes produce. Why “search” isn’t enough, hackers need to think like urbanists and the internet needs urban design.

It’s the start of a new semester at Harvard and there’s a real buzz about the place. I had breakfast with Nicco Mele and Chee Pearlman this morning and the Charles Hotel was a hive.

What a difference a day makes. Chee and I were in the same place yesterday and it was almost empty. On that occasion we were meeting Ethan Zuckerman who, like Nicco, lives much of his life and does most of his thinking online. He studies how people throughout the world use new media to share information and moods across cultures, languages and platforms.

Both meetings were in preparation for an upcoming seminar that the Loeb Fellows are hosting at the Graduate School of Design. Themed around “technology” this will be the first of a series of four events that aim to tackle big issues in planning and design, including food, extraction, waste and community activism. Continue reading

Connecting the disconnected – how much is enough?

Yesterday evening, Ed Parham gave a talk at the Graduate School of Design on Space Syntax’s work redesigning unplanned settlements in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Despite the really awful weather, which turned Cambridge into a pedestrian sludge, there was a full house.

Ed showed how Jeddah’s unplanned settlements share a common spatial property of being locally walkable but globally disconnected from the bigger movement structure of the city. This supresses the economic potential of these places. To counter this, the Space Syntax team has developed Area Action Plans for dozens of unplanned settlements, identifying opportunities to bridge between the local and global movement networks with new streets lined with commercial activity. These streets allow the unplanned settlements to trade outwards in new ways.

The big question raised by this work is: to what degree should unplanned settlements be reintegrated into the spatial fabric of the city? To a degree, the spatial distinction of these places creates a cultural identity for the inhabitants, with certain social benefits. The risk of reintegration is that this identity will be diluted or even lost by the new flow of movement, social identity and capital through the unplanned areas.

Ed described how, in fact, a spatial hierarchy can be created that leaves much of the original spatial fabric intact, especially the fine-grained, more residential and more spatially segregated fabric that helps to structure the cultural identity of the unplanned settlements. The long audience discussion that followed Ed’s talk showed how relevant the challenge of urban connectivity is to urban practice.

Weekly update

10-16th January 2011

General catch-up with network after Christmas holidays.

Preparation of teaching material for Harvard teaching later in the week. 

MAS meeting with AR, ET and RS to prepare MAS strategy for 2011.

Urban Land Institute conference call to prepare for evening event in late January with TS as speaker.

EP arrives.

Day One of “Introduction to Space Syntax theory, technology & practice” at Harvard Graduate School of Design – TS leads the teaching.

AFF Germany discussion with AR and CSc about SSx strategy towards working in Germany.

Boston, City Hall Plaza site visit with EP.

Day Two of “Introduction to Space Syntax theory, technology & practice” at Harvard Graduate School of Design – EP leads the teaching.

Open Source Urban Planning Software conference call with OS developers throughout the USA.

Boston/Cambridge spatial modelling & analysis with EP in preparation for presentations next week.

From landscapes of extraction to creative industries of organic matter & waste

​​Monday, 14th February 2011 at 6pm
Stubbins Room, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Pablo Rey, Basurama
Manolo Mansylla, Trashpatch
Robin Nagle, anthropologist of material culture (waste)
Scientist doing research in biomaterials (Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering/ Materials Research Science and Engineering Center – School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)

Richard Forman
Technology has no limits. Science has no limits. Human creativity and imagination have no limits. The limits are imposed by matter. Raw materials are being extracted from the remotest of geographies and we are beginning to exhaust the last reservoirs of available minerals in order to perpetuate a production system based on disposability and the consumption of wholes, not parts; of large, not small; of new, not old; of multiple, not the one that is needed. In order to extract such minerals, we often deplete forests, along with the cultures that inhabit them, or contaminate river basins. Science and technology can produce brilliant responses to our environmental problems, but unless they take into account the source of the materials they consume, the counter landscapes of extraction, those of waste and slums (people get displaced as we render their land useless through monoculture or extraction), will continue to grow; setting off our good intentions to move towards a more sustainable future. Continue reading

Upcoming talk: “From highways to handshakes – taming roads for people”

Monday, 24th January at 6:00pm
Jimmy Mak’s, 221 NW Tenth Ave., Portland OR

A conversation with Tim Stonor of the renowned London-based planning firm Space Syntax

When it comes to transportation, planners use “science” for cars but more often “intuition” for pedestrians. Elaborate computer models have been developed to model traffic scenarios for vehicles, but when it comes to forecasting how people will move on two feet, it’s all observation and guesswork. In the 1990s, the London-based firm, Space Syntax, changed all of that. Mapping neighborhoods from a pedestrian eye-level and then applying relatively simple algorithms to model behavior, Space Syntax developed robust new computer predictions that led the way to successfully pedestrianizing such car-choked places as Trafalgar Square in London and Old Maket Square in Nottingham. Today, with 13 offices across the globe, the firm is leading the design and redesign of districts in cities as diverse as Jeddah and Beijing. Stonor will speak about the development of and the ever-expanding use of Space Syntax’s techniques and will offer thoughts on the relationship between the centre and the suburbs in Portland. Continue reading

Upcoming talk: “Planning the unplanned: An evidence-based approach to design in informal settlements”

Harvard Graduate School of Design, 18th January 2011, 6:30pm

With the world population of slum dwellers set to increase to 2 billion over the next 30 years, the need to provide adequate living conditions for the urban poor is recognised as a major challenge. Political and economic pressure to implement improvements quickly, often means that the contribution slums make to the wider city is not recognised as part of the solution.

Using the case study of his work in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Ed Parham of Space Syntax will explain how advanced techniques of spatial analysis have been used to identify a core spatial problem at the heart of the slum condition. These techniques have been used further to develop solutions in the form of individual area profiles, city-wide prioritisation strategies, settlement-specific needs-based improvement strategies, and to help generate detailed area action plans. Based on in-depth knowledge of the role and importance of spatial networks in cities, these solutions can be implemented incrementally and flexibly with the long-term aim of reintegrating the unplanned settlements, and their residents, through the minimum disruption.

Introduction to Space Syntax theory, technology & practice

Reading list

Hillier, B. Introduction to Space is the Machine, Cambridge University Press, pp1-8.

Hillier, B. (1996) Cities as movement economies. Urban Design International , 1 (1) , pp. 41-60.

Hillier, B. (2009) Spatial sustainability in cities: organic patterns and sustainable forms. In: Koch, D. and Marcus, L. and Steen, J., (eds.) Proceedings of the 7th International Space Syntax Symposium. (pp. p. 1). Royal Institute of Technology (KTH): Stockholm, Sweden.

Hanson, J and Hillier, B (1987) The architecture of community: some new proposals on the social consequences of architectural and planning decisions. Architecture et Comportement/Architecture and Behaviour , 3 (3) , 251 – 273.