As an architect & urban planner my principal concern is to make cities work for people. This means understanding how their streets connect to either encourage low carbon transport such as walking and public transport. Or, if they’re disconnected, do they lock in car dependence and its carbon impacts?
At my company Space Syntax, we’ve been developing Smart Cities computer modelling techniques for over thirty years, to understand the deep structures of cities so that we can then plan them better. Recently we published a Walkability Index that describes whether existing or new development is going to work.
Connected, walkable streets are not only good for reducing carbon – we’ve also understood they are good for commercial real estate, retail performance and job creation.
Computer modelling of street connectedness, combined with statistical analysis of public health, has also revealed important impacts on health. People are more likely to be obese in places that are less connected because these places encourage less walking, and less overall physical activity.
And not only physical health but mental health too. Following an interdisciplinary approach we have worked with health and care agencies to understand how people report being lonelier in less connected places. Why? Because less connected, less dense places make it harder to form social networks.
So, bringing these findings together we can plan and design cities as systems of systems, allowing us to integrate land uses – so people work closer to where they live, integrating transport so people can walk or take public transport and avoid reliance on cars.
We’re using agent-based models to plan cities as networks of streets, parks and public spaces – heavily planted with trees to create shade to the benefit of people walking as well as to the biodiversity of non-human species.
And if I can focus on one key element it would be the walkable main street – we have allowed our main streets to become dominated by fast traffic. Instead we need to redesign them for slow speed movement. Yes, still for private vehicles but also for walking and cycling.
So when my clients ask where to start to think through the complexity and apparent chaos of cities, I encourage them to start at the street. Think of streets as places for people.
And of course Singapore has all the potentials to be an ever more walkable nation. Computer modelling of street connectedness is allowing us to identify exactly where these potentials are and where they can be created through new planning and design.
How do cities respond to COVID-19?
Ventilation is changing the form of cities:
- opening windows
- opening up the ground floor
- seats in streets.
What will the future city look like?
How to design the future city…
Study history – long history – how villages become towns become cities.
Some emergent trends…
A tweet to summarise
Think of a city as a “transaction machine”, helping people flow effectively and to come together in streets, parks and public spaces for the social and economic interactions that will drive the innovations that will shape a better future.
Released today, Deloitte Real Estate’s London Office Crane Survey reports a 50% reduction in the construction of new office space in central London in six months. Yet even such a significant reduction in supply may not be enough to offset a greater reduction in demand. As a result, there is likely to be an oversupply of office space in central London.
Mike Cracknell, director at Deloitte Real Estate, said, “By transforming outdated buildings into COVID-safe, high-quality workspaces, developers are looking to upgrade and futureproof their offices in a market where occupational demand is increasingly discerning.”
Indeed, in a buyers’ market, what matters is quality not quantity. And not only the functional specification of office space in terms of health and safety – such as air quality, general environmental cleanliness and the presence or not of touchless interfaces – but also in terms of organisational performance: is this an office in which my organisation can thrive?
When evaluating their needs, organisations must consider the fundamental purpose of an office.
It is no longer enough – if ever it were – to think of an office as a place that’s big enough to get most people together to give them a place to work from where they can occasionally gather in large rooms for group meetings. That can all be done, to some degree of success, on Zoom. Nor is it about having a desk where everyone can work from. For most, a kitchen table or home office may still be good enough.
No, what matters is everything that doesn’t get programmed into the working day: the incidental, the serendipitous. Sometimes thought only of in terms of ‘the social side of things’, the informal interactions that occur in offices are actually the hard currency of operational effectiveness. Offices that ‘buzz’ are places where ideas are born and shared. Where people not only want to work but want to stay working. And where outsiders want to visit, bringing with them their own ideas, their own colleagues and, in so doing, enhancing the melting pot of creativity.
Location – where is the site and what’s around it
Linkage – where are the principal ways into the site (can any new ones be established?)
Layout – the pattern & hierarchy of streets
Land use – more than housing?
Landscape – the look and feel of the place (covers a lot eg materials, blue/green)
Lining – how the buildings meet the street (active or blank frontages)
Longevity – quality construction & operational expectations
SPATIAL LAYOUT ATTRACTION MODELLING
‘Spatial Layout Attraction Modelling’ is a computer modelling technique that calculates the relative importance of each street segment – each piece of street between two intersections – for people moving within towns and cities.
We begin by analysing road the geometry of the street network, using road centreline data.
By finding the simplest routes from all street segment origins to all destinations – the shortest routes that involve the fewest twists and turns – an algorithm calculates how likely it is that movement will pass along any individual route.
Segments that are part of straighter, more connected and more central streets tend to be used more frequently as part of journeys across the urban network.
However, the overall importance of any street segment may vary depending on the scale of the journey. Some segments are more likely to be used as part of longer journeys, some as part of shorter journeys, some at both scales and some at neither.
For this reason, Spatial Layout Attraction modelling is undertaken at two different scales: first, for a catchment of 10km, which typically identifies the movement hierarchy of people making longer journeys in vehicles and on bikes:
First, the ability to walk to the place you buy your food.
Second, the ability to walk to see friends, go to school, visit a doctor or dentist or catch public transport.
‘Walkability’ requires fine-grained spatial connectivity: simple radial routes from edge to centre to get people to the shops from every direction and then orbitals to let friends get to other friends, to work, school, public transport and so on. Combine radials and orbitals and you get a latticework, or a grid. More regular grids, or less.
To be economic, both food shopping & public transport require sufficient density.
Combine 1) a fine-grained spatial latticework with 2) sufficient density and you have the building blocks of sustainable #urbanism.
If you can only have one then start with the connectivity: the radials feeding a centre and the orbitals helping people move around. Then add the density over time, intensifying the grid with more closely spaced and taller buildings as well as an increasingly finer network of routes towards the centre, where there is more pedestrian activity and an increasingly coarser ‘grain’ towards the edge, where there is less.
Cycling & public transport follow on.
This is how sustainable – ie walkable – towns and cities can grow.
1) expect it to be a long run
2) celebrate small victories
3) gather the opinions of local people (local people are local experts)
4) gather the opinions of non-local experts
5) don’t accept “no” as an answer (“no” is an excuse, not an answer)
6) keep a record of everything (because people will come and go and they won’t otherwise know what has gone before)
7) expect setbacks (because nothing is linear and you’ll go in circles from time to time)
8) be patient with the naysayers since they can sometimes become your firmest advocates
9) be active online to promote and rebut
10) hang on to the fact that, however unlikely it may sometimes seem, common sense will prevail!
Urbanism is a long game. The kids grow up for a start.
This morning I met with local town council members & county council officers to discuss a new pedestrian crossing in #Faversham. Only later did I realise this is on exactly the same location as the photo taken 12 years ago for an article by Katie Puckett for Building Magazine!
Here’s the article:
“This junction has been designed for the benefit of cars. At 8.30am it is teeming with kids trying to get to school but there’s nowhere to cross the road.”
This small but significant intervention would build on the recently approved 20mph speed limit in Faversham, something that’s been a long time in coming. Let’s see what happens in the next few months.
We can’t wait another decade.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Image (c) Design Urban
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
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
Notes for presentation at Transport & Housing conference:
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
– mental health
– social unrest.
The irony. The paradox.
We have never been as connected.
We have never been as spatially segregated. Read More
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
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
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