Category Archives: Urbanism

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

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.

What exactly is human scale?

Darwin masterplanDarwin City Centre Masterplan, Space Syntax

For too long, architects and urban planners have pursued the myth that human scale means “local” scale. In doing so, they have downscaled space, thinking that by fragmenting and disconnecting towns and cities into small enclaves they would be creating “community”. They were wrong.

Isolated and disconnected, people on inner -city housing estates, new towns and sprawling housing developments have found it hard to form social networks. To engage with the outside world. To be human.

And this form of urban planning prevails, being exported to developing cities worldwide.

In contrast, human scale is a combination of the local and the global, acting simultaneously on the individual. We are, unsurprisingly, more sophisticated than we were given credit for.

What do I mean? Well, consider having a doorstep conversation with a neighbour while watching the world go by on your street, or a coffee with a friend on the High Street. These are simultaneous local:global experiences.

Space Syntax analysis identifies the places where shops are most likely to locate in historic towns and cities. Using network models to study patterns of street connectivity, we find that shops are usually in locations that are simultaneously embedded in both local and global movement networks. Where everyday movement criss-crosses, be that local, short-distance movement or larger distance, global movement.

We call this “multi-scale” analysis and the places it identifies are multi-scale places.

Human behaviour is no mystery when the right kind of science is directed towards its understanding.

And the key finding for the creation of future urban settlement is that we need to think more globally. To connect more. To embrace the outside world more. To create more multi-scale places.

To make places work more effectively at the local scale we need to connect them more effectively at the global.

We need to see the human scale as a multi-scale phenomenon.

Digital urbanism – a sketch of a structure

Digital Urbanism has two key components:

1.  Computing
That organisations and individuals are involved in the creation, collection, visualisation and analysis of data, leading to the creation, through computing, of modelling tools and predictive analytics. This kind of activity is now central to the operations of public and private organisations. It is no longer peripheral.

2.  Human behaviour
That people now think about places online as well as places on land; that cyberspace is as real as physical space; that networked computing means we have moved beyond the single chatroom and into the interconnected “place-web”.

These, I believe, are the twin aspects of Digital Urbanism and, of the two, the second is the primus inter pares because human behaviour patterns should drive computing activities.

Centres and Cities

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

or

5. divide and reunite (Berlin) but we can’t blame the architects for that!

Email to Paul Swinney at the Centre for Cities

UK Spatial Infrastructure Model

Slide1

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

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.

UrbanRural: one system, many tensions

Notes from a meeting with the Beijing Institute of Agriculture and Forestry at Space Syntax London, 18th September 2013.

Common themes
Production
The rural landscape is a place of production. So is the city: production of goods and production of ideas.

Protection
Protection of natural assets in the rural landscape. Protection of historic buildings in the city. Avoidance of pollution in both. Protection of water courses – natural and artificial in both.

Waste
Avoidance of waste in both urban and rural settings. The rural landscape as the wastebasket of the urban landscape. Tension.

Movement
Conflicts in the rural landscape between local movement (agricultural productivity) and urban-rural movement (commuting). Tension. Continue reading

Urban data: some risks – unnecessary complexity and shallow artistry

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.

The importance of grids

The natural shape of the network is a grid, not a tree. Trees focus on singular points – grids share the burden.

The natural shape of the city is a grid, not a tree. The evidence of history tells us as much. Rectilinear grids pervade the historic record – in the Middle East, Latin America, East Asia. The gridiron is not then a modern creation – it would seem we have always built grids.

Why should grids be as important – indeed fundamental – as they are? Continue reading

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.

How HS2 should learn from HS1’s urban errors?

St Pancras Way will one day have active frontages, costing millions more than the initial HS1 investment. The blank frontages and negative street character that were originally built will eventually be transformed to create a place that London deserves. In the meantime, people walk through the loading bay, across the security barrier, past the blank walls.

This is the lesson of cities – they fix their problems. But only after money has been spent needlessly. It is a mistake that  HS2 must avoid:

St Pancras north Continue reading