What will cities look like 30 years from now?

I joined a carbon reduction event yesterday where, by way of introducing ourselves, we were each asked to predict the future: what did we think we would see more of in 2050 – in terms of objects, experiences and services. A neat little ice-breaker if ever there was one.

Here are my top-of-the-head responses:

1. Object

Green, shaded main streets

⁃ fronted by shops at ground level with people living above them

⁃ lined by trees that provide shade, lower air temperatures, disperse strong winds and encourage walking

⁃ forming the centres of local neighbourhoods that are built relatively densely but that are also intensely green (green walls, green roofs, green verges

⁃ connected into a secondary network of slow streets that people can walk, cycle and drive along.

2. Experience

Conviviality: the “Urban Buzz”

– people standing, sitting, talking and generally being present with one another, forming local communities.

3. Service

Data-driven urban planning & design

– harnessing machine learning and AI-driven algorithms to create future plans and predict their impacts.

The first two will help address the Climate Emergency by reducing transport emissions. The third will threaten the established authority of the architectural and urban planning professions, which will need to adapt to survive by accelerating their uptake of digital tools.

Office or home – where’s the best place to work from in the New Normal?

Screenshot 2020-05-04 at 16.53.58

The question about when we return to work is also a question about how we return to work. For many, remote working has been a revelation. Perhaps not ideal in every respect but certainly helpful in many: the convenience of not commuting, the realisation that Zoom, Teams, Miro, Skype, Whatsapp and other platforms mean it’s possible to stay in touch in ways we hadn’t realised.

So there’s a fair amount of “unlock inertia” going around and a good set of very reasonable questions being asked:

  • will anyone want to work 9-5 anymore?
  • and on every day of the week?
  • can we carry on having those online meetings because they seem, at least for some purposes, to be more efficient than round-table events?
  • and how do we stop ourselves drifting back to the Old Normal?

We’ve been discussing the future of work at Space Syntax, both for ourselves and for our clients who we help create workplaces that foster interaction, encourage serendipitous encounters and nurture creativity. I wrote recently about what the office of the future might look like, with no desks and board rooms – a little provocatively for some as it turned out, but deliberately done to stimulate our thinking about why we need offices. Read More

Is physical distancing possible on city streets?

Until a vaccine is found for COVID-19, and perhaps beyond, it will be important to practise physical distancing in towns and cities.

Whether this is possible will come down to the “carrying capacity” of the urban infrastructure: in particular, the relationship between Pedestrian Supply in the form of sufficiently wide footways and Pedestrian Demand in terms of the need for people to walk, whether that is to work, home, school, the shops or for leisure and pleasure.

Both supply and demand are calculable using tools from tape measures to multi-variable modelling algorithms.

Screenshot 2020-04-28 at 17.40.49

Much well-deserved attention has been paid to the Sidewalk Widths NYC project, a digital map that “is intended to give an impression of how sidewalk widths impact the ability of pedestrians to practice social distancing.” By measuring the available width of footways, the map indicates which footways may or may not be suitable for physical distancing.

Sidewalk width provides an important piece of the “Pedestrian Supply” equation. However, it is not on its own capable of answering the central question: is physical distancing possible?

First because it is a one-dimensional measure and physical distancing is at least two-dimensional: it may be possible to keep 6 feet to the side of someone else, but is it possible to keep 6 feet in front and 6 feet behind? Given the length of many streets in New York City it may seem apparent that there is plenty of space to go around but the generously wide sidewalks of Times Square demonstrate that, under normal circumstances it is possible for these to be swamped with human activity and, as a result unsuitable for physical distancing under the new normal. Furthermore, it may be possible to observe distancing while walking mid-block but what happens at street intersections? Is there space to queue? Are the street lights synchronised to let one “platoon” of users cross before the next arrives behind them? Is flow predominantly one-directional (which it may often, but not always, be in the rush hour) or two-directional (as it can be at lunchtime)? One-way flows may have less of the “ordered chaos”, the urban ballet of two-way flows and so one-way flows may be more efficient.  Read More

No board rooms, no desks. The office of the future…

Images of future offices, with physically distanced workstations to separate desk-bound workers, seem to miss the point. Offices aren’t for staying apart – they’re for coming together. But how can that be organised in a post-COVID world?

Offices have desks because we’ve long thought that people couldn’t or shouldn’t work from home. Attitudes were changing slowly, with progressively greater levels of home working in recent years. Now, enforced lockdown has shown, in a short space of time, that for many of us it’s entirely possible to do much of our work from the place we live.

This is especially so when we’ve got the right kit and the right applications, and when we’ve moved sufficiently well along the learning curve to use our tech properly. And home working is likely to be even easier when, for many, the kids are back at school and home is an emptier, quieter and less disruptive place to be.

To continue to be relevant, to be attractive to people who are used to the comforts of home working, offices should no longer be boxes where people sit further apart from each other. Instead, they need to be places for doing what can’t be as easily done at home:

⁃ serendipitous encounter outside of planned meetings

⁃ overheard conversations that prompt interruptions, discussions and, as a result, new ideas

⁃ introductions between the person you’re with and the person you bump into. Read More

Silver linings: how design can exploit the virus

A “to do” list for urban planners, architects & interior designers, in response to the coronavirus.

In towns & cities:

  • reduce traffic speeds to 20mph/30kph to discourage speeding on empty streets during lockdown & to keep the air clean, the sound low & the accidents down after the “return”.

On wide streets:

  • broaden footways to improve physical distancing in the short term & encourage pedestrian flow in the long
  • then narrow roadways further with cycle lanes to support physical activity during lockdown & active commuting on the return.

In public spaces:

  • provide more shade, more seats, more WiFi
  • place more seats on broadened footways so calls can be answered & people can convert from moving to sitting down…
  • …and so “I’ll call you back” becomes “Just give me a second to sit down.”

Read More

The Auranga Story: create streets = create jobs

Research by Mike Cullen of Urbacity has shown that:

Out-of-town malls generate 0.5 non-retail jobs per retail job created.

Mall-dominated towns generate 1.2.

Street-based retail generates 2.6

Answer = build street-based retail

As if we didn’t know enough already about the social, economic and environmental benefits of connected, mixed-use urbanism, Cullen’s research provides one more good reason to plan towns and cities around beautiful, shaded, slow, thriving streets.

Space Syntax is working with Urbacity in support of Design Urban in its masterplan for Auranga, a new urban settlement to the south of Auckland. Developed by Made, Auranga breaks the mould of car-based sprawl by co-locating residential and employment uses around a tight-knit, walkable town centre and rail station.

Read more about the Auranga development.

Image (c) Design Urban

Reflecting ourselves in the city

What can the form of cities tell us about the structure of the brain? And what can the structure of the brain tell us about the form of cities? These are questions that I’d like to address in this talk. In summary, I believe we can learn a good deal about the interaction between the mind and the urban places in which the global majority of people now lives.

After all, the city is the largest intentional product of the human species. We’ve had them for millennia and, in them, we’ve manifested our societies, created our industries and developed our cultures. They are the product of our imaginations, the places where we take decisions – and they are the inspiration for new thought. The link, I want to suggest though, is not just contextual. It’s much deeper than that. Read More

Beyond placemaking: 7 dimensions of “Place Performance”

Notes from a talk at the Bartlett Real Estate Institute, University College London, 24th April 2019.

 

Placemaking is the art and science of planning and designing spaces for human activity, however that is done: ‬

– by a single hand (usually not a good approach) or by multiple hands (usually a good approach)

– by academics, professionals and non-professionals. ‬‬

‪But beyond placemaking is “place working”, or “place functioning”, or “place performance”: when the planning, design and construction work is finished and the place becomes operational. When it fills with the mysterious liquid called human behaviour. ‬‬‬

And key to which is human transaction: the everyday social and economic exchanges that take place between people – these transactions not only sustain lives but bring about inventions that shape cultures.

Place Performance has many dimensions. Here are seven that I have seen work in practice: Read More

Transport & housing: tools, standards, principles

Notes for presentation at Transport & Housing conference:

https://www.transportxtra.com/tx-events/?id=2400

To understand where we are & where we need to go, we first need to understand where we come from. And where we come from is a relationship with the car that has fragmented cities & damaged lives.

Transport & housing

Big problems:

– obesity

– mental health

– social unrest.

The irony. The paradox.

We have never been as connected.

We have never been as spatially segregated. Read More

We, robots

The subject of robotics is multi-dimensional, disruptive & urgent.

In my summing up at the Public Debate of the Robotics Atelier at the Norman Foster Foundation, I identified three types of robot:

Type 1_The robot of repetitive tasks

– this kind of robot will end many kinds of manual jobs that people currently have in factories.

Type 2_The robot of super-human activity

– doing jobs that no human can do: because they are, for example, in outer space, under water, in hazardous places; or because they require such precision that they are beyond human ability.

Type 3_The robot of provocative imagination

– this robot engages most intimately with human existence, suggesting ideas, suggesting shapes, suggesting behaviours that were previously unknown. Another word for this could be the “design robot”.

Or even the “life support robot” – a machine, an entity that lives with us, whether it is attached to us, inside us or walking beside us. It cares for us.

Whereas the first kind of robot – the robot of repetitive tasks – is the most straightforward, it isn’t at all the least important because it may have the most profound impacts on current industrial practices and, as a consequence, on social and economic structures.

But the life support robot is the most intriguing/challenging. It conjures up images of an animal on the shoulder, the daemon in The Golden Compass – enhancing/extending our quality of life and provoking thoughts/actions we might otherwise not have made.

My takeaway from the Robotics Atelier at the Norman Foster Foundation is that we need to be more nuanced in our discourse. Robotics means different things to different people and we must acknowledge these differences in order to have meaningful debate.

Cities from scratch – Astana Economic Forum

Good afternoon. I’m delighted to be a member of this panel today.

Let me start by describing my organisation’s approach to the creation of cities from scratch.

Space Syntax is an international urban planning and design studio and has been involved in plans for new cities and new city extensions throughout the world, including here in Kazakhstan.

Our approach is built on three key ingredients: Read More

The return of the impossible – Astana Economic Forum

Good afternoon. It’s an honour and a pleasure to be here in Astana today with this distinguished panel.

In speaking about the cities of the future I’d like to speak about three technologies that I think are not only exciting but are also capable of genuinely addressing the “Global Challenges” theme of this Forum.

The first is a mobility technology. The second is a physical transaction technology. The third is a digital technology.

As an architect involved in the design of everything from new buildings and public spaces to entirely new cities, these are three technologies that I’m particularly invested in. Read More

Smart, green & sustainable future cities

Contribution at workshop on UK-China Future Cities Collaboration Programme, Beijing, China
Organised by the British Embassy, Beijing

20th March 2018

I would like to address the first objective of this workshop, namely a framework for UK-China collaboration on smart, green and sustainable future cities.

Let me begin by saying that our task is helped by the fact that many valuable frameworks already exist:

First, we have many long-established academic networks. Second, we have project-based networks that bring professionals together around planning and construction projects. Third we have professional networks formed around the many conferences that have brought together UK and China experts for many years, and continue to do so. Read More

Kevin Lynch Memorial Lecture

Slide 1      

Good evening. It’s a great honour to have been asked to give this evening’s Kevin Lynch Memorial Lecture, and a special honour to be doing so on behalf of Bill Hillier, who is unable to join us. Bill sends his best wishes to the Urban Design Group.

Slide 2      

First, I can’t do justice in the time available to the breadth and depth of Bill’s genius. And I use the word genius carefully. I believe, as do many others, that he is a genius.

I may only this evening touch on concepts that each deserve a more lengthy explanation and discussion. And, likewise, on the hundreds of urban planning and building design projects that Bill and Space Syntax have helped create over the past four decades.

But what I hope I will do is paint a picture of Bill’s achievement – albeit a personal one.

I want to talk especially about the future directions that his work is taking. The future is important because Bill is not obviously sentimental. He is far more likely to want to talk about something he is currently working on, or something he doesn’t yet understand, than to dwell on the past. He hasn’t ever, to my knowledge, sought prizes. He’s enjoyed them when they’ve appeared, but he hasn’t gone after them.

And, I suspect like anyone receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, he has wondered why it was being given so soon, before his lifetime is fully achieved. When I spoke with him last weekend he explained that what he’d really like to be talking about is what he’s currently working on. But, as is often the case with emerging theory, he’s not sure he’s right about it yet. In other words there’s always more to be done.

But Bill was keen to shape this evening’s presentation. So let’s begin with some words from him: Read More

Intelligent mobility: risks & rewards

第一页   技术就是答案
Slide 1       Technology is the answer

Slide01

1966年,塞德里克·普莱斯说,我喜欢一开始就对新技术进行一点质疑。当然,“技术就是答案”。他也强调:“不过问题是什么?”。
I’d like to begin with a little scepticism about new technology. Of course “Technology is the answer“, said Cedric Price in 1966. He also said, “But what is the question?”

这些问题就是我们试图去获得无人驾驶技术。
What are the questions that we are trying to answer in the pursuit of autonomous vehicle technologies?

我认为仅仅从驾驶员的角度去谈论智慧出行,并不充分。 我喜欢从整个城市的角度去考虑收益。如果我们过度关注车辆而不是城市,那么风险也是需要考虑的。
I don’t think it’s enough to talk about intelligent mobility from the perspective of the driver alone. I’d like us to think about its benefits for cities as a whole. And the risks too, if we focus too much on the vehicle and not enough on what’s around it: the city. Read More

Notes from first ULI UK Tech Forum

1. We need to have a clear definition of technology. Physical as well as digital technology. Users and uses as well as creators and providers. Pre-construction, construction, post-construction. 

2. Because we’ve always had technology:

a. Writing (wooden stylus & wax tablet) movement

b. Air conditioning – occupancy

c. Underfloor heating – occupancy

d. The shower – personal

e. Bicycle – movement

f. Revolving door – occupancy

g. The elevator – occupancy

h. The car – movement

i. Solar panels – occupancy

j. The Internet – movement & occupancy

k. Autonomous vehicles – movement

l. Drones – movement

m. Photofungal trees – place
We’ve always had technology. It’s always changed. Perhaps the pace is accelerating globally (but we shouldn’t forget the industrial revolution). 

3. What hasn’t changed is the fundamental purpose of cities: social and economic trade. 

4. In the future, autonomous vehicles will change the nature of movement. They will permit people to be far more productive while they drive. 
5. Another key, and consequential, change will be in the nature of physical connections, transformed from highways to streets. Connectivity (as Chris Choa suggested) as an asset. 

6. Therefore the street as an asset. The piazza as an asset. Not just the buildings that line them. The suburban business park will go the way of the dinosaurs. 

7. The nature of online interaction is a further area of significant new change. 

A velvet revolution for the Blue House roundabout – Newcastle City Council to think again

Massive popular opposition to plans for a disfiguring roundabout leads to the City Council announcing this evening that it will go back to the drawing board. This is a positive development. A working group will now be established to look at alternative plans.

Jesmond Local press article

YouTube clip of Cllr Bell’s statement

 

Growth. Are you old school or new school?

There are two different schools of thought about how to accommodate urban growth. The first says that cities should build more road capacity to handle private vehicle traffic. The second says that less space should be provided for private vehicles and more investment should be made in public transport and “active travel” i.e. walking and cycling. The first approach is generally more costly than the second.

The old school of thought has prevailed for around a century. The new school is relatively more recent, responding to the frequent failure of the former, where more road space has created more road traffic, which has created more congestion.

Cities all over the world are now removing expensive car-oriented infrastructure and introducing space for walking, cycling and public transport. Ring roads and bypasses are being unpicked and cities are thriving as a result. Look at Copenhagen, Paris, London, Birmingham, Boston, Poynton or any number of places that have employed the new school approach.

On Poynton…”This was the busiest junction in Cheshire, with 25,000 vehicle movements per day and the fourth worst performing retail centre in Cheshire East. It now accommodates a similar volume of traffic, but since average speeds have fallen to below 20mph, drive times through the centre are significantly reduced. Anecdotally people feel safer crossing the carriageway and cars will stop for them, make eye-contact and usually elicit a wave of thanks from the pedestrian.” The Academy of Urbanism

Road speeds are being reduced, from 40 or 50mph to 20 or 30mph. Not only on residential streets but at the intersections of major roads too. Why? Because when you slow traffic down it flows more freely. Why? Because at lower speeds, more vehicles can fit into the same space. This isn’t rocket science. It’s simply a different school of thought.

When a city pursues “old school thinking” of road capacity increases and banned turns then not only is this going to generate more road traffic it is also going to make it ever harder for people to do anything other than drive. In these circumstances, walking and cycling become harder. “Walking and cycling facilities” might be put in but these are often token gestures because they are fitted in around the needs of traffic. Desire lines – the paths that people prefer to take – are severed and people are encouraged to walk or cycle on unnaturally twisted journeys. What happens as a result? They don’t use these “facilities” and they take risky alternatives, dashing across road lanes or cycling among fast-moving traffic.

Old school thinking is voracious – once started it is hard to stop. Nevertheless, evidence, analysis and creative thinking can help. If there is a willingness to listen.

I speak from the perspective of practice – of having observed the behaviour of people on foot, on bikes and in vehicles in a scientific manner for over 25 years. Of having presented evidence of fact to local authorities and of overturning poorly thought-through, old school proposals. Of having designed alternatives that don’t put anyone in particular first but instead balance the needs of all. This isn’t about being pro-bike and anti-car. It’s about being pro-place and pro-cities.

And let’s be clear, new school thinking is fundamentally about being pro-growth. But pro a form of growth that is smart and sustainable: growth that doesn’t sacrifice the profound benefits of local places for the expedience of cross-city commuting, but growth that promotes alternative ways of traveling and enhances the attractiveness of cities as places to live in and invest in.

Backwards plans for Newcastle’s Blue House Roundabout

Newcastle City Council’s plans for the Blue House Roundabout are appalling and unnecessary.

I know the junction and have walked and driven across it more times than I can remember. The last thing it needs is what is proposed and I intend to do what I can to help stop the scheme.

There is already a significant body of local opposition to the proposals, for example:

https://wordsmiths2801.wordpress.com/2016/08/13/self-loathing-on-a-city-scale/

“At present, it’s a busy, but functioning, junction occupying a particularly striking location – the intersection of two broad avenues of lime trees, some 130 years old, which cross the historic open spaces known as Duke’s Moor, Little Moor and the Town Moor. These spaces belong to the hereditary Freemen of Newcastle upon Tyne, who have been exercising their right to graze cattle here for a thousand years or so. They form a green belt around the city centre and make its inner suburbs surprisingly pastoral.”

Facebook and Twitter are both active:

image

Yet the more weight that can be brought against these unnecessary, expensive and car-centric proposals, the better.

Don’t let this nonsense be foisted any further. Take Newcastle forwards not backwards.

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