Category Archives: Digital phenomena

Space Syntax: the push of intent, the pull of need and the resistance of the “pre-digital”

I was asked an interesting question yesterday about the barriers to growth and acceptance of Space Syntax and Integrated Urban Models.

I believe there are three important components to the answer.

First, the growth of Space Syntax Limited‘s business was robust for 19 years, following its startup as a UCL spinoff company in 1989 – until 2008, when the bottom dropped out of the global real estate market. In that initial period, the company’s turnover grew at an annual rate of over 20%. This allowed continuous staff growth and market penetration. During this time the company devoted profits to the production of new software and new research findings as well as a modest return to shareholders and staff bonuses. It invested this way because it was determined that its growth should be about long term success and sustainability, not short-term reward.

2008 saw the global financial crisis hit the urban planning and design industry at home and abroad. This disrupted the growth curve at Space Syntax for two years. The company is today back on an accelerated growth track having seen consistent turnover growth at over 40% in each of the past two years, the steepest rate in its history. Continue reading

A definition of “Smart” – screens, signs and shop windows

“Smart” is too often, too narrowly defined in terms of the benefits of digital technology. Of course, digital technology can help cities to be smarter. But being smart means much more than that.

My own preference is to define “smart” by focusing on three factors:

1. people
2. the information that people receive
3. the behaviours that then follow.

Smart Cities create behaviour changes that benefit social, economic and environmental outcomes.

Behaviours rely on information, which can be derived from many sources: certainly, from digital sensing and smartphone displays but also from the physical and spatial world that surrounds city users. From shop windows that reveal the contents of their interiors; from a glimpse down a lane that lands on the sign outside the pub; from the faces of other people – the human display. Each of these sources provides information that influences human behaviour. Each has its place in the definition of a Smart City.

Smart digital technology – the sensing, the display, and everything in between – helps people to be smart but the sum of digital technology does not create the Smart City. There are other non-digital technologies to consider:

- the street layout of a city is a technology, guiding the movement patterns of people through the connections it affords, prioritising certain streets by virtue of their greater connectivity and backgrounding others that connect less well

- a social network of human relations is facilitated by the same technology and becomes a technology in itself: a powerful repository of knowledge and intelligence.

The spatial and social fabrics of the city are machines in their own ways, with mechanisms that deserve equal attention to digital technologies when it comes to defining the Smart City.

People – the ultimate consumers of information – should be put at the centre of the Smart City. Their behaviours should be enabled by both digital and non-digital technologies. Because these behaviours rely on information sources, the places in which people move and interact in the city should be created to act as efficient information devices. They should be clearly laid out to optimise information flow as well as comfortably furnished to support effective – call it “smart” – human transaction.

Smart = human behaviour * technological (Digital * nonDig) behaviour

Inspired by a conversation with Michael Mulquin

Spatial Planning and the Future of Cities

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

Smart City Planning & Design Principles

Smart Cities are smart in two ways. First, they harness technologies to improve the way that urban places are led and managed. Second, they create better outcomes for the people that use them. This two-pronged approach applies to all aspects of Smart Cities.

When it comes to the planning and design of Smart Cities, technology can improve:

1. the performance of the places that are produced by planning and design (the outcomes)

2. the processes involved in creating plans and designs (the inputs).

A Smart City approach should direct the capabilities of urban planners and designers to:

1. facilitate effective human transaction in new and existing places

2. provide access to places of transaction, both physical and digital: on-land and on-line

3. support the mobility required to access these places of transaction by providing networks of connectivity for all modes of transport, both physical (walking cycling rolling driving) and digital

4. take an outcomes-oriented (ie transactions & emissions) approach first and foremost, aware of the inputs required (ie materials, energy & mobility) to achieve these desired objectives

5. provide effective analytic and forecasting tools aimed at social economic and environmental impacts.

How should the Transport industry change?

First, by seeing the purpose of Transport as the facilitation of human transaction and not only as the movement of people/goods and the construction of roads, rails and runways.

Second, that the economic benefits of transport investments are measured not as savings in time but as the creation of opportunities.

Third, that when you say transport, people think walk and cycle as well as drive and ride.

Fourth, that digital transportation if considered alongside physical transportation by the same people working within the same teams/departments.

Fifth, that the accuracy of transport forecasts is improved – too many initiatives don’t work the way they were meant to and, of these, many create unintended negative consequences such as traffic congestion, illness and social isolation.

MSc Advanced Architectural Studies – graduate employability

A talk given at the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the MSc in Advanced Architectural Studies – the “space syntax” MSc at University College London, 3rd September 2013.

Good evening, everyone.

Let me begin by paying tribute to the genius of Bill Hillier and Julienne Hanson. Not only for pioneering a theory – the theory – of architecture, but also for finding a way to teach it that has had such an effect on us all.

I’ve been asked to speak this evening about the issue of employability: does taking the MSc in Advanced Architectural Studies either enhance or inhibit the job propsects of its graduates?

Here’s what I want to say:

First, I’d like to review the perceived problem of Space Syntax – why it’s sometimes viewed with skepticism and how that impacts at interview; second, the nonsense of this criticism: why do I even need to be up here to defend the course; third, the “Hang on, maybe there’s an element of truth here” moment; and finally a belief that we can’t rest on our laurels. Continue reading

Integrated Urban Modelling – Space Syntax’s approach

I’ve written before about the benefits of using science-based models in the planning and design process. I’ve raised concerns about the frequent lack of objective analysis in urban and building projects, and the risks this creates in decision-taking. Basing important decisions on gut instinct and experience, then willing on success with little more than hype, just isn’t good enough.

Integrated Urban Model

Here is a diagram that summarises Space Syntax’s approach to urban modelling. It’s a staged process: collecting datasets; analysing them to identify relationships between urban form and urban performance; drawing out key issues and developing creative ideas – all the time using the model to test proposals. The approach is transparent and communicative – helping stakeholders participate in the process and, most importantly, helping people take decisions that lead to actions and changed behaviours.

It’s more than a pipedream – we’ve been using the model on projects for over 25 years, evolving it through continuous application. And we’ll continue to do so, adapting to the ever richer data context that digital urbanism provides.

And always remembering that the ultimate objective is the creation of behaviour change to the benefit of human wealth, health and education.

Download the presentation

Smart cities – why, what, how, how?

Some advice for people promoting a Smart City approach. Prepare your answers to the following questions:

1.      Why do we need “smart” and do we even need cities any more?

First, provide a clear and simple explanation of why cities are important ie what they do that is special: they arrange physical buildings within spatial networks to create intensifications of opportunities for people to interact and transact, socially and economically. Acknowledge the interdependencies between cities, towns and villages but emphasise the primacy of cities.

Second, explain how this process is facilitated by the propinquity and connectivity that cities offer – traditionally physical connectivity and, increasingly, digital.

Third, describe the threats to the efficiency of cities: gradual, sprawling growth; over-reliance on private cars.

Fourth, describe the consequences of inefficiency: economic inefficiency, social isolation, unhealthy living, short-term investment, environmental degradation.

Fifth, speculate on the further risks associated with a “same as usual” approach. Continue reading

Old Street – putting the genie back in the bottle?

photo

Old Street Roundabout is a heady intersection of urban movement flows: on foot, on cycles and in vehicles, including the Tube. But it is currently a mess, out of place within the surrounding network of generally convivial streets. In order to appreciate the severely negative condition of the place you only have to walk to Old Street Roundabout from a few hundred metres in any direction to witness the sudden, dramatic degradation of public space, the increase in traffic speeds and the disappearance of pedestrians into subways.

Yet, as a nexus of movement, the Old Street junction has the urban design foundations – the DNA of urbanism – to be a great public space, serving the local area as well as acting as a global emblem of Tech City. Not a valley, glen or vale but a truly urban object: a forum, a plaza, a piazza, a market place a square: Old Street Square. Or even, in keeping with the open source/open access aspirations of many in the technology community: Old Street Commons. For this to happen, the public realm of the Old Street junction needs to be overhauled. Radically. Continue reading

Future Cities_Cities of Transaction

Thinking about the future of cities is not a new challenge. From Christopher Wren’s plan for the post-fire rebuilding of London in 1666 to Ebenezer Howards’s Garden City concept, to Le Corbusier, to Bladerunner, human ingenuity has been tasked with anticipating the future.

A problem, if we care to admit it, is that these plans tend to fail. Look at what replaced Wren’s ideas: more of the same. Or, consider the legacy of post-war housing and the New Towns movement: social and spatial isolation. Car dependency. Traffic congestion.

Why should this be? Continue reading

Goodbye spacesyntax.org hello spacesyntax.net

After a decade of earnest, if occasionally erratic, service the spacesytax.org website has been retired. Designed to serve the community of space syntax researchers, .org created the first place online that brought together the various strands of space syntax academic activity: publications, software development and international symposia. Built pre- Facebook, Twitter and YouTube .org was once fit for purpose but no longer is.

Over the Christmas break .org has been superseded by www.spacesyntax.net. Built on the open source WordPress platform, the new site incorporates social networking and user feedback functionality with, most importantly, plenty of potential for future evolution (plans are already in place to do so).

The replacement of .org with .net is in recognition of the networking ambitions of the new site. In the first instance this means acknowledging the worldwide network of space syntax research, practice and development (the .org site was very much UCL-focused). In the future, this should allow network members to use the site for presenting their individual work and communicating between each other.

Site design: Tim Stonor
Site creation: Ross at Hype!

IBM Smart Cities, Helsinki – latest notes

9.50 Keynote

What will the future city look like?
The city of transaction

How to plan a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable city
The effects of the digital revolution on human behaviour patterns

Tim Stonor, Architect & Urban Planner, Managing Director, Space Syntax (UK)
_____________

Data is not the solution.
Turning data into knowledge is a beginning.
Turning knowledge into wisdom is the next step.
Turning wisdom into action is the key.

All of this requires theory.

Here is a theory of the city.
It begins with a description of the city as a geometrical configuration.
Of land uses and linkages.

Addressing the question that planners ask. That politician ask and demand of planners. That property developers make and lose money on.

What goes where and how is it connected together?
Continue reading

IBM Smart Cities, Helsinki

19th October 2011

Tim Stonor
“What will the future city look like?”

View the presentation

Themes to be addressed
1. How to plan a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable city.

2. Effects of the digital revolution on human behaviour patterns.

Summary
In addressing the question, “What will the future city look like?” I am less concerned about the visual appearance of individual buildings and more concerned about how the city is planned as a layout of streets, spaces and land uses.

Why? Because the spatial layout of a town or city organises the movement and interaction of people. Movement and interaction lead to social and economic transaction. These are the building blocks of society, of culture and therefore of being human.
Continue reading

The end of ages for transport planning and the birth of an era of transaction planning

There is so much interest, from so many different interests, in the future of urban living. This suggests that, whatever else, people suspect that things will change. I’m sure this is right – technology, resource scarcity, population growth, energy shortage and climate change: all are factors that will provoke change. The question is, will these changing “inputs” affect the shape and form of the “output” ie the look and feel of the city?

Again, the short answer is “yes”. But not in a sci-fi, megalopolis, flying cars kind of way. Nor in a “let’s all abandon the city and live in rural bliss, connected to each other by the Internet”.

The reality, if done well, will look and feel strikingly familiar. We will in the main, by necessity, live at density and travel on foot and by bike, making lots of small journeys and a few larger ones. Likewise we will, by necessity eat local, reduce, recycle, reuse. Cities will be incredibly green because we will, by necessity need to harvest rainwater, prevent runoff, shade streets.

The effects on social and economic productivity will be enormous. The quality of human interaction will be enhanced.

Having been through an era of evermore globally connected urbanism, with the consequently divisive effects of major traffic arteries on local communities and the throttling or urban centres by that 60s badge of honour, the ring road, we will move to an age of continuously connected, convivial, landscaped urbanism.

For me, this can be summed up as a change from “transport planning” to “transaction planning”. This will necessitate an end of ages for the traffic engineer and the birth of an era of sophisticated, humane urbanism.

Spatial layout, urban movement & human transaction

Download my presentation

Designing mobility for democracy: the role of cities
#demobility
Thursday, 14th April 2011 from 1pm to 5pm
NYU, Kimmel Center, Eisner & Lubin Auditorium
60 Washington Square South, New York

Summary
Given the title of this event: “Designing mobility”, I want to turn to the subject of design and the role of architects. The key message of this presentation is that cities need architects, not only to design the buildings that fit into them but also for the networks of space that connect them together. Why? Because architects have a special skill: to resolve complex problems into elegant solutions. And the spatial network of the city is a complex design problem.

However, before they can really help, architects need to “get” cities. The problem for cities is that architects are not sufficiently familiar with the way cities work and therefore the design principles they need to work with to make cities more effective as places of human transaction.

So what is the role of a city?

A city should act in three key ways:

1. as a spatial layout – of routes (streets and paths) and of land use assets

2. as a movement machine, organised by the configuration of the route network and the attraction of the land uses assets

3. as a transaction engine, generating and accommodating social, economic and cultural exchange.

A city is therefore a place of production and reproduction.

When cities don’t work a whole series of assumptions are typically loosed into the policy framework. Perhaps the greatest and most damaging of these is that that they lack transport infrastructure. Witness Sydney’s aerial people mover or the radical and crude plumbing of highway arteries into the capillary network of historic cities, especially here in the US.

Often the last thing that troubled places need is more transport infrastructure, especially when it is about moving people large distances. Engineering shows us that we can move human beings in pretty much any way we please, whether it’s to the moon or into the hearts of historic places, like here in Beijing.

As Sartre remarked, “Everything has been figured out, except how to live.

Heroically engineered mobility in the form of great road intersections such as that in Beijing is – with notable exceptions – the default response of the global transportation community and therefore of the political system. Witness the federal response to the current economic recession and the bent towards building and fixing highways.

In this talk I want to argue that, if cities are to fulfill those three roles I set out they need to provide a new kind of mobility. And this is not, as Enrique Peñalosa said, only a problem of government. it is also a problem of design. And a problem of design theory at that.

Continue reading

Space Syntax & the future of urban planning software

Notes from a lecture given at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
23rd March 2011

View a summary of the presentation on YouTube

Opening comments

Good afternoon. I am delighted to have this opportunity to report on my progress as this year’s Lincoln Loeb Fellow. My brief today is in two parts: first, to describe my work as an architect and urban planner at the strategic consulting company, Space Syntax Limited; second, to say something about where I think my practice, and the field generally, is heading.

In doing so, I want to make special reference to new technologies and new methods of communication that have emerged in recent years.

A plan to transform an established business
“Space Syntax” is an evidence-based approach to planning and design, with a focus on the role of spatial networks in shaping patterns of social and economic transaction. First developed at University College London, it explains, scientifically, why the continuously connected city is a good thing and it exposes the risks that come from sprawl and disconnection. It has much to say about the benefits of density and the hazards of urban fragmentation. It gets us away from simplistic banners like “New Urbanism” or “Landscape Urbanism” by providing a detailed, forensic description of the city.

Space Syntax is best known in the UK but, over the last fifteen years, we have established a network of Space Syntax consulting companies to take the approach into a growing number of countries. Although not immune to the ebbs and flows of the market, we have a commercially successful operation.

Yet, in collaboration with UCL, we now plan to make it available at low or no cost, to as many people as are willing to take it up. More than that, we are about to open up the “source code” of the software to anyone who wants to get their hands on it. We are, in other words, about to publish the recipe for our secret sauce.

In my talk today I will argue that this can only be a good thing. Continue reading