Great placemaking is a process combining art and science. There is a place for both and indeed a need for both. Two problems. First, urban planning is largely an analogue discipline. Too many diagrams and watercolours. Not enough science. And, when science is present, it is seen as an adjunct, not as a driver.
Space Syntax has harnessed a scientific technique and used it to drive a creative process. This scientific technique is geospatial. It is all about what goes where and how it is connected together. This should be of interest to this conference.
However, even more than that, the Space Syntax approach is about people. How people occupy geospatial environments. How they move within them, spend time in different parts of them; how they encounter and interact with other people in space. And, most importantly of all, how these interactions lead to transactions: social and economic. Together, social and economic transactions underpin culture and drive cultural change.
Space Syntax is built on geospatial technology. The key has been to incorporate the “human factor” into the approach: measuring and mapping at the human scale ie at the scale of the street segment and individual plot rather than at the crude level of post code or council ward; recording and analysing the “human footprint” of places: individual land uses, where the front doors are, the quality of the building frontage and, crucially, human activity itself: movement patterns, places where people stand or sit, conversation circles.
Now more than ever do these processes need to be understood: global urbanism, resource depletion, energy demand. Global development is asking these questions and cities are answering them. If built well, cities are economically productive, low energy, creatively rich, healthy.
However, when built badly – as too often they are – risk of slums, disconnections both spatial and digital, separation of population from traditional governance structures.
A twin need – to connect people to city-making and city-management processes. A twin solution: reconnect spatially and digitally.
Never have the opportunities for the GI community been greater, nor the risks of inaction more profound.