Category Archives: Transportation

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.

From cities of movement to places of transaction

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.

UK Spatial Infrastructure Model

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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

Spatial Layout as Critical Infrastructure

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
  • safety
  • 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.

Pervasive centrality.

A smart street-grid.

To be developed…

SkyCycle – elevated but not remote

The comparison between SkyCycle – a proposal to create a network of strategic cycling routes above London’s radial railway lines – and the City of London’s much maligned network of (unbuilt or demolished) upper level walkways is one worthy of attention.

1.         The City of London “Pedways” often paralleled routes at street level. When they did so they effectively split the pedestrian flow between upper level and street level – thus typically making neither level particularly/sufficiently vibrant. This is why most of them did not work or were resisted from being built in the first place.

However, as all good students of spatial networks understand, not all links are equal. When upper level walkways genuinely create routes that are not available at ground level then the evidence of observation surveys shows that they can be very well used. Some of the upper level routes through the Barbican are as well used as ground level residential streets elsewhere in London. Reality is, as always, more subtle than simplistic classification.

2.         In contrast, SkyCycle follows railway lines that have historically created morphological “fissures” in the street network either side of them. In this way SkyCycle does not recreate routes that are already available. Instead, it create new routes.

3.         Spatially, these SkyCycle routes have two important characteristics:

a)         because they connect directly from the edge of London to the centre, linking to the ground level at accessible points in the street network (identified by Space Syntax through spatial accessibility analysis) SkyCycle routes add to London’s “foreground network” of important arterials (the red and orange links in a Space Syntax map of London).

London_Global Choice

Continue reading

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