All posts by Tim Stonor

Architect & Town Planner | Managing Director, Space Syntax Limited

What did the Romans ever do for us? Pompei’s 5 lessons for placemaking…

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In looking forwards it is important to learn the lessons of history.

Look at Pompei. A city built for efficient mobility. 

A model of the 1st century with lessons for the 21st century. 

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The grid – no cul de sacs. Built for mobility. Built for commerce. 

More or less rectilinear – not labyrinthine. A layout that brains like. Easy to wayfind. Hard to get lost in.

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A Main Street with shops – no inward-looking shopping malls. Active frontages. About as much surface for pedestrians as for vehicles – the right balance for then. Perhaps also for now?

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And shopkeepers of great wealth! It was not a compromise to open onto a Main Street. It was a sound commercial investment. Who would turn their back on the flow of the street?

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Pedestrian crossings! The deep kerbs channel water when it rains, flushing the dirt from the road and keeping it clean. Integrated infrastructure.

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Pedestrian crossings that are aligned with pedestrian desire lines – not following the convenience of traffic engineers’ vehicle turning arrangements. Pedestrians first because its the pedestrians that carried the money, not the vehicles.

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A small, pedestrian only zone in the very heart of the city. No bigger than it needs to be…

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…unambiguously signed that this is where you have to get out of your chariot and onto your feet. 

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Pompei: a city of great streets – great street sense.

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But in recent times we lost our street-sense. 

Look at Birmingham then…

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And now. What happened to our street sense?

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And Birmingham was not alone. 

Look at US cities:

What they were…only 60 years ago – recognisably like Pompei: simple, rectilinear grids.

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Then what they became…

We became entrapped by traffic models. 

And a love-affair with the car. 

We need to regain our street-sense. 

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Fortunately this is happening. 

Trafalgar Square,

Nottingham.

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At the Elephant & Castle, this design puts the pedestrian crossings on the pedestrian desire lines – just like those crossings in Pompei. We’ve talen pedestrians out of subways and given them their proper place at street level, next to the shopfronts. We’ve made the humble crossing an object of beauty, spending many different budgets (landscape, planting, pedestrian, cycling, highways) on one project so that each budget gets more than if it had been spent separately.

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This new approach – a rediscovery of street sense – has been made possible through advances in science that have made us see the errors of previous ways.

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The more we look into this the more we find of value: for example, how connected street grids create higher property values in the long run.

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And Birmingham has pioneered this science:

Brindley Place – the bridge on the straight east-west route – a lesson from Pompeii! It may seem obvious today – because it’s a natural solution – but it wasn’t obvious to some people at the time, who wanted the bridge to be hidden round the corner because, they said, there would be a greater sense of surprise and delight! What nonsense. We had to model the alternatives and show just how powerful the straight alignment was.

We still have to do so today. Many urban designers and transport planners have been slow on the uptake. The average pedestrian gets it immediately. What does that say for our professions?

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Now cities all over the world are recovering their street sense, creating plans for their expansion that are street-based, not mall-based.

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In time to accommodate a new, two-wheeled chariot: the bicycle.

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SkyCycle – a new approach to urban mobility. Creating space for over half a billion cycle journeys every year. Constructed above the tracks, allowing smooth, predictable, junction-free movement between edge and centre. Developed by a consortium of Exterior Architecture, Foster + Partners and Space Syntax.

Adding to cycling at street level – not taking it away.

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Recently, at the Birmingham Health City workshop,a discussion about the location of healthcare facilities quickly became one focused less on hospitals and wards and more on streets and public spaces. On “free”, preventative public health rather than expensive, clinical curative care. Free in that it comes as the byproduct of good urban development. 

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Rob Morrison’s drawing of the Birmingham Boulevard…

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…an idea to turn the Inner Ring Road into an active street.

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And to achieve this there are clear principles to follow:

1. Connected street layouts.

2. Mixed mode movement – not separated by tunnels and walkways.

3. Active streets ie lined with street shops not mall shops.

4. Pedestrian crossings on desire lines, not where it’s most convenient for traffic turnings.

5. Limited pedestrianisation of the most important civic areas.

A thought – yes Pompeii was a city of commerce but the houses of the city are filled with references to literature, poetry, music: the arts. 

Huge cultural value. 

After all, this is the important, aspirational aspect of living in cities that comes with the efficient mobility that results from pragmatic planning: the grid, mixed modes, active frontages on main streets and special, limited, high intensity, pedestrian only places. 

When we get this right we have time to truly enjoy ourselves in the arts and sciences. In culture. That is truly great urbanism.

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The Garden Street – the essential, unspoken element of the Garden City 

Too often the Garden City is visualised as a place of huge green spaces enfolding small pockets of grey streets. The green and the grey.

But why should streets be grey? What about avenues? Boulevards? Rows of trees? Grass verges? Street planting at various scales. 

And don’t those huge green parks just separate the urbanism? Don’t Green Parks create barriers between people and opportunities? Between homes and jobs and places of leisure?

The city of the future should be a city of green streets as well as green parks? And, if we wish to call it a Garden City then we should remember to include the Garden Streets as well as the Garden Parks? 

 After all, they were always part of the mix.

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Open data needs open attitudes

Tim Stonor speaks at the Building Research Establishment about his experience using data in the planning and design of buildings and urban settlements.

Technology by necessity

Notes for today’s talk at the NLA’s conference on “How do we build a smarter London

The London context:

– more people (growing population)
– more data (sensors everywhere)
– more sophisticated computing.

Strategic problem: how to handle it all.

Space Syntax’s experience: address the problem via “the questions of reality”.

The commercial application of Space Syntax research was catalysed by approaches from London residents in the early/mid 1980s eg Limehouse Basin, South Bank, King’s Cross: citizens groups opposing property developments they saw as being alien to London life. Today we work for those developers as well as community groups. Developers have learned to “get it”.

Data and computing create an art of the possible (sometimes the seemingly impossible too eg the wonderful Pigeon Sim). Pass the art of the possible through the filter of reality/market demand. Then it’s possible to make sense of it all – to know what to do.

The questions asked by our clients are the necessary filter.

Then evolve the technology according to new and difficult questions.

This is what we had to do to understand Trafalgar Square – we’d never studied such a complex open space before.

Technology by necessity.

The spatial architecture of the SMART city

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Good morning. It is a pleasure and an honour to have been invited to give this presentation today at the Nikkei Smart City Week conference. The subject of my talk is architecture – not only the architecture of buildings but, also, the architecture of public space: the space that we move through and live our lives in; the glue that binds us together.

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In the first part of my presentation I will address three key questions:

First, what is a Smart City?

Second, how can a Smart City be planned & governed?

Third, where is the place for technology in the Smart City?

And I will relate each of these questions to the architecture of space.

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In the second part of my presentation I will describe the very significant effort that the UK is making to plan for its urban future, embracing the opportunities that new technologies provide.

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In the third part of my presentation I will describe the use of computer modelling techniques in the creation of the London 2012 urban masterplanning process. Continue reading The spatial architecture of the SMART city

Defining Smart(er) (as) Cities

I prefer the term “Smarter City” to “Smart City” even if it has already been claimed by IBM.

“Smarter City” suggests the city is already smart and technology can make it smarter, whereas “Smart City” can be misinterpreted as suggesting that the city is dumb and technology, like a White Knight, will ride to its rescue.

And in truth some cities are dumb – or have been made dumb by modern transport planning: choked with congestion in pursuit of car-based sprawl.

But not all cities are dumb. We have cities for a reason. They are fundamentally smart in the way they create intensification of opportunities for people to meet, interact and transact. In this sense, cities are a natural product of human evolution.

To be truly smart, cities need to recognise their fundamental smartness. Real cities – the places that resonate to the “urban buzz” – are already smart cities. Historic cities, unsullied by destructive modern planning, are smart cities. Low technology cities, if they are compact and people-focused, are already smart cities.

Future cities need to be as smart as great historic and low technology cities.

Smart City – good.

Smarter City – better.

Smart as Cities – best!

A new science for cities

A talk given to the Leaders and Chief Executives of the Key Cities, Brighton, 24th October 2014.

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We hear a lot about smart cities as the solution to the needs of urban places. But although technology allows us to live remotely and speak to each other from deep forests and mountaintops, humanity as a species has become more and more urban. The more that we could be apart, the more we have actually come together.

Perhaps we need to understand that smart cities is not a new concept: cities were always smart – if they weren’t smart we wouldn’t have them. Continue reading A new science for cities