Category Archives: Education

Integrated Urbanism – Massachusetts & the United Kingdom Partnership Forum

Introduction
Good afternoon Governor Patrick, visiting delegates and colleagues from the UK. As a recent resident of Massachusetts myself, it is a special pleasure to speak alongside the Governor on the subject of data and cities: and to share some remarks on the common interest in this room: the science of cities.

Massachusetts and the United Kingdom Partnership Forum

A few words about me: I am an architect and an urban planner in private practice. My company, Space Syntax is a consulting company that specialises in predictive analytics - using data science to forecast the impact of urban planning decisions – the “what goes where and how does it all connect together” – on urban impacts such as mobility, interaction, wealth, health and personal safety.

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Our motivation is to use science to design great places to live. It’s a combination of data crunching and creative visioning.

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I am currently assisting the UK Government Office for Science on a major Foresight project on the Future of Cities. We are looking 25 and 50 years ahead to imagine how people might be living and what kinds of cities will be there for them to live in. The Government Office for Science is headed by Sir Mark Walport, the Government Chief Scientific Advisor.  He provides advice directly to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet on the science that can assist in the consideration of national policy. Our aim is to inform policymaking in the short term that can benefit social, economic and environmental outcomes in the long run.

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Our work within GO-Science (edged there in red) sits within the UK ecosystem on Smart and Future Cities – a vibrant marketplace for the science of cities.

Let me say a few words about how we are going about this.

First, last and everywhere in between, we are interested in people. Cities manage relations between people – the ways they move and how they interact – to social and economic ends. Everything else about cities – the roads, tunnels, pipes and ducts – provide the life-support. But people provide the life itself – so they are our prime focus.

Drivers
Living in cities is subject to key drivers including:

- climate change

- resource availability and

- population growth.

On the latter, the Office for National Statistics forecasts a range of possible population changes that include significant increases for the UK overall. Under such circumstances the questions of where people will be living, and how they will be connected, are big ones.

Opportunities
We are also aware of the special circumstances in which these drivers operate, not least the opportunities brought about by:

1. technology: making profound new things possible: sensing, visualising and analysing data, and by

2. a growing recognition that cities are solutions to problems. Ed Glaeser of Harvard University sets out the powerful economic case for cities in his book, “Triumph of the City”, namely that cities are very effective:

- crucibles of innovation – bright ideas come from cities, are nurtured in cities, and find applications in cities, which are also

- economic machines, and

- generators of rich social networks.

And then, perhaps greatest of all,

- cities are inspirers and sustainers of cultural activities: music, theatre and the arts generally.

Describing a city
So how do cities do this? How do you go about describing a city?

The Future of Cities team is developing a definition and you may well be able to help us with it.

When cities work well, they are dynamic, multi-faceted entities working simultaneously across multiple scales.

But – only when they are connected. Physically, spatially and digitally.

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It is perhaps so obvious as to have gone unnoticed for too long, that historic cities – the places we like to visit when we go on holiday, the places we choose to work in if we can – are connected cities: Barcelona, Florence, London here…Harvard Square. Connected for walking and cycling at a local scale as well as for driving through on a larger scale. Continuously connected – without great severances.

Too often, almost always, the new, planned city has been divided by the freeway. And too many historic places have been severed by great, new roads. Boston’s Big Dig has restored and transformed the city’s spatial connections. Cities worldwide are looking at Boston as an example of how to fix their discontinuous infrastructure because the interaction of car-dependent transport systems with local needs in these cities is too often out of balance.

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Connectivity was the watchword of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games – finding routes that would connect the new Queen Elizabeth Park to communities either side of it. This was a theme echoed in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games where a great map of London’s street network formed the stage on which the athletes paraded.

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Thinking about cities
So, in thinking about cities we need to understand these connections. The interactions between transport, leisure, industry and living; infrastructure planning and societal outcomes; on economics, health, crime and biodiversity.

To do so, the Future of Cities project is taking a systems approach. In two ways:

1. examining the interactions between the various city systems I just mentioned

2. examining the interactions between the system of UK cities.

We are using the best evidence and data modelling available to do so.

Forecasting the future
We are then setting about forecasting the future by taking a Scenarios approach, using three basic techniques:

1. “Trends projection” – in other words, what happens if we get more of the same as we’ve seen in recent years

2. “Aspirational design” – what would we wish the future to be like? Then, by backcasting – what do we need to do to reach those end goals?

3. “Plausible extremes” – given various kinds of infrastructure capacities – how much, of what, could be accommodated where?

And as well as the “What goes where?” and “How does it connect?” we are also looking at the “Who decides?” questions of governance and “Who pays?” aspects of finance.

Emerging themes
To close, let me leave you with some of our emerging themes:

1. Place-making – not housebuilding. We need houses of course – but we need neighbourhoods and mixed-use communities too. Places of work and leisure located within places of living. And this is a message that I have heard not only throughout the UK but also in Boston on a recent visit to discuss the future of your great city.

2. the skills of leadership, analysis, financing, planning and design to deliver these complex, multi-faceted entities we call cities. Skills that include an understanding of connectivity and interdependence – skills that integrate the disciplines that our institutions so often divide.

We need to start young. I had the pleasure of seeing my children educated at Kennedy-Longfellow school in Cambridge, where they were a short distance away from MIT – and their educators made use of this walkable connectivity to expose those young learners to that great place.

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This is only possible when you have connected, mixed-use cities.

It leads to serendipity. To ideas that hadn’t been thought of before. It’s a safeguard for the future of economies and the cultures they exist within.

The question is: can the serendipity of cities be understood by science in ways that it can be better harnessed by those that plan, finance and govern them?

This is the challenge for those of us in the room today, a massive scientific opportunity that needs a “Big Science” approach.

We call this the “Age of Algorithms” – and it certainly is exciting to be part of the effort. But terms like this can be alien to city dwellers looking for shelter, for employment, for safety and for the comfort of a community. The way forward, I believe, is to direct scientific effort towards that most complex and rewarding of challenges: how we live in cities.

Thank you.

Building a Smart City modelling team

Integrated Urban Model

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Cities planning their future are increasingly turning to the production of Integrated Urban Models. These are tools that bring together various datasets on different asoects of urban performance, from the behaviour of people to the flows of energy, water and other utilities. The aim is to better predict the future of cities by better understanding how they are currently working.

This is a nascent but rapidly developing field in which knowledge is emerging and evolving at a pace. Given the complexity of cities it is a good idea to involve many specialists in different subjects, led by an Urban Modelling Advisory Panel (UrbanMAP).  I suggest the UrbanMAP, like any good team, is made up of 11 people, comprising:

1.    a transport technologist with expertise in walk/bike as well as road/transit

2.    an infrastructure engineer with utilities capacity expertise

3.    a real estate economist with expertise in locational analytics/spatial economics (housing & jobs)

4.    an environmental planning specialist with expertise in the analysis of on-land, on-water and in-air phenomena

5.    a construction expert

6.    a health expert

7.    an anthropologist with expertise in the technological analysis of human behaviour and cultural identity

8.    an architect/urban planner/designer with expertise in the creative use of technology

9.    a social media technologist with expertise in semantic analysis of online content

10.    a data integration specialist with expertise in statistical/correlational analysis and predictive analytics

11.    a visualisation specialist with expertise in both 2D and 3D representation.

The group should meet regularly, evolving the vision of the model and the brief for its creation by other consultants.

It should be chaired – or captained – like any good team, by a creative all-rounder: the architect at No.8, whose role is to resolve complexity through elegant and resource-efficient means.

Space Syntax has created an Integrated Urban Model structure to take clients and stakeholders on the “data journey”. We engage stakeholders throughout the process of gathering, visualising and analysing data feeds, then forming ideas and measuring the impact of these. Our experience is that people then develop greater confidence in, and ownership of, the actions that ultimately follow.

Case study
Darwin City Centre Masterplan

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

Teaching urban design – a sketch for a new approach

Sketch…
Space Syntax is keen to play a role in initiatives that embed the Space Syntax approach in everyday urban practice. The watchword is “dissemination”. Our aim is to create a professional landscape that uses Space Syntax as an everyday approach to the planning, designing and general governance of places.

Here are some of my thoughts about the potential structure of an urban design course, which are largely about using this as an opportunity to break down many of the barriers that conventionally get in the way of good urban design:

1. combine art and science: especially the importance of a science-informed approach to urban design, which is often missing

2. combine creative and analytic/disciplines: bring together designers and analysts in an intellectual cocktail

3. combine design, planning, infrastructure engineering, finance, governance, legals

4. put the human being at the heart of it all Continue reading

Teaching urbanism – it should start at school

OK, the big idea would be to teach urbanism to school kids, not only to replace Home Economics (ie lifestyle education) but as a pedagogical umbrella under which the established curriculum of maths, history, geography, physics, chemistry, biology (the classics)…can shelter. Reinvigorate learning. Prepare students for the change that’s coming.

So, we would have the mathematics of urban movement/property value; the history of settlement growth, including the modern history of divisive transport planning/the history of the slum; the geography of population change/urban agriculture/energy generation; the physics of land use attraction; the chemistry of the atmosphere/composting…

First thoughts. Am sure there’s more.

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

Carbon emissions & spatial connections

I spoke today to Dr Joyce Rosenthal’s “Environmental Planning & Sustainable Development” class at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

My presentation “Carbon emissions & spatial connections” can be viewed on Slideboom.