Summary of Tim Stonor’s talk at the World Cities Summit, Singapore, 3rd June 2014
From cities of movement to places of transaction – a new mobility focus for city leaders, planners and everyday users
Key responsibilities for cities
1. Imagining the future of cities and mobility.
2. Designing integrated, people-focused planning to sustain cities.
3. Measuring the social, economic and environmental value created by the movement, interaction and transaction of people.
The fundamental purpose of cities
Cities are for transaction: economic and social transaction. People come to cities to trade. It is why we have cities – they are intensifications of opportunities to trade. The public realm of the city – its network of streets and spaces – is where much of this trade occurs: a “transaction machine” which, like any machine, is more or less efficient depending on how it is engineered.
The contemporary problem of cities
This essential fact – the transactive function of the public realm – was debased in the twentieth century, when streets were designed as movement tubes, stripped of “transactive functionality”. Shops were moved off streets and into precincts. Streets became roads, clear ways, and urban freeways. The mantra of movement-at-all-costs pervaded the re-planning of existing cities and the planning of new ones. Little surprise then the cities failed – the movement tubes became clogged with traffic looking for places to park up and trade.
The rise of the Future City
Future cities are taking a different attitude to mobility, one that places human transaction at the core of its objectives.
The spatial layout of the city is being recognised as a powerful economic and cultural asset. Effective urban layouts create a grid of connections that benefits patterns of movement, land use, land value, public safety and community contact. Well-planned cities bring people together to form social and economic relations.
In contrast, disconnected cities pose profound risks to civic well-being, distancing people from each other and from opportunities to transact.
World Cities Summit 2014, Singapore
In sharing his perspective on future mobility, Tim Stonor describes new, scientific approaches to the measurement of urban network efficiency and future mobility, and shows how street patterns can be first analysed and then optimised through architectural and urban design to benefit transaction-focused mobility.
Using examples from throughout the world, he describes the urban planning challenges facing world cities and argues that these can be addressed through the considered design of street networks and mobility strategies.
Key features of a Future Mobility Strategy
1. Cities should be recognised, first and foremost, as “transaction machines” not “movement machines”.
2. Transaction happens at the pedestrian scale so transport needs to focus at this scale.
3. On a related note, cycling offers an attractive alternative to driving.
4. The focus of national and urban policy should therefore be on the creation of pedestrian and cycle movement strategies.
5. The ultimate purpose of these strategies should be on the creation of transaction and not only the enabling of mobility.
6. The economic benefits of transport should be measured not only, if at all, as time savings but also as creations of transaction opportunities.
7. New tools – pioneered by Tim Stonor’s organisation, Space Syntax – exist to model pedestrian and cycling movement, to rebalance professional efforts towards more sustainable mobility strategies.
8. The future test of success will be that, when people are asked to think “transport”, they think “walking and cycling” as well as “driving and riding public transport”; that when they consider mobility, they prioritise transaction over transport.
The RIBA today launched a set of think-pieces on Digital planning: ideas to make it happen.
I’m sure you’re right about the link between street morphology and attractiveness to business. Centres seem to do one of three things through time. They either:
1. consolidate and grow (London, Paris)
2. move (Jeddah)
3. implode (Sunderland).
Oh, and some places:
4. never have a functioning centre (Skelmersdale, UK New Towns) because they were designed in ignorance of the importance of a) grid continuity and b) multi-scale centrality – properties measured by Space Syntax models
5. divide and reunite (Berlin) but we can’t blame the architects for that!
Email to Paul Swinney at the Centre for Cities
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. Continue reading
Stub…notes for an upcoming conference talk
Key issue to be addressed:
- Urban-Rural development
- Urban Regeneration
- Smart Cities.
When a network of streets is laid out, planners and designers build in an enormous amount of “embedded potential”:
- the pattern of movement
- land use potential
- land value
- social interaction
- public health
- carbon emissions.
The design of the street network has a fundamental and measurable influence on each of the above.
Later changes – to land use pattern or to the local design of streets (eg road widening or narrowing, adding cycle lanes or public transport) – can enhance or even diminish these potentials, but such later changes always occur around a benchmark that is set by spatial configuration decisions.
Buildings come and go – are built and demolished – but the spatial network, once laid out, is harder to adjust.
Exceptional new connections – such as bridges – can be built to connect disconnected networks but grids are resilient to change. Therefore, putting the wrong grid into an urban development can be a pathological move, setting the socio-economic potential of places for generations to come.
How do we know this?
The evidence-base: post-war housing estates; UK New Towns. Places that go wrong within a generation, if that – sometimes within a few years. Car-dominant transport planning. Land use zoning.
Risk of failed UK models.
In finding a balance between the tension of urban and rural development, Chinese towns and cities should learn from China first:
- mixed use planning: marginal separation by linear integration.
- mixed mode planning: roads, streets, lanes, canals: Jiading.
- mixed character planning.
What are the Spatial Layout requirements?
The historic Chinese grid: rectilinear hierarchy.
To be developed…
How might cities be planned in the future?
This is not only a question of how they might look but also, and more importantly, about how they might be laid out as patterns of buildings and spatial connections.
Laying out a city means answering two key questions: “what goes where?” and the “how does it all connect together?” The answers to these questions have fundamental implications for the social, economic and environmental performance of urban places. And the jury is out as to which is the best way to do so: to use spatial planning to create place.
The global urban risk is that architects and planners have created, and continue to create, highly unsustainable city layouts – car dependent, socially divisive, congested and life-suppressing. And, it would seem, the more technologically advanced cities have become, the less efficiently they have worked.
By contrast, the street-based, continuously connected grid – the kind of layout that the slow, incremental evolution of cities produced before the intervention of modernism – has largely fallen out of fashion.
My argument in this piece is that the continuously connected grid is the only form of urban layout that can deliver sufficient social, economic and environmental value. The only kind of grid that is truly sustainable. Continue reading