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.
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. Continue reading
The RIBA today launched a set of think-pieces on Digital planning: ideas to make it happen.
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.
As a user of urban data I know the benefits that can be gained from visualising information on city form and city performance. But… and this is the but… these benefits only flow if the visualisation is followed up with analysis of that data – analysis that seeks out patterns, correlations and associations in order to make sense of the data. Then, on the basis of this analysis, it is possible to inform urban planning and design decisions – indeed I find that good analysis inspires design thinking, pointing the user in certain directions.
The approach we have developed at Space Syntax is to be simultaneously a) “data-light”, b) analysis intensive and c) outcomes oriented. I appreciate that we are using our Integrated Urban Models in specific contexts – usually in the crafting of public space designs, urban masterplans and, increasingly, regional strategies – but I believe these principles apply to whatever kind of modelling is being undertaken.
One of the weaknesses of urban transport modelling, for example, has been its “data intensity” – its use of multiple variables, coupled with a degree of data “manipulation” – at least this is what I’m told. The result is expensive, time-consuming modelling.
Another trend I detect is “data-as-art” – making visualisations, usually animated, of data flows. These create seductive imagery but I do question their purpose – because the analysis is often missing.
And therefore, for both of these reasons (data intensity and data-as-art) I worry that cities pursuing urban data initiatives may find that these become extremely complicated, expensive and unwieldy – if aesthetically charming – and I wonder what such data strategies would do to further the cause of cities. They will, no doubt though, reward their creators.
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
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