Category Archives: Architecture

Attracting new industry to cities – acting beyond the obvious

I was at a meeting in London yesterday with visiting Chinese national policymakers and was asked what was needed to attract a new industry to a city. 
This is an important question not only in China but in any country where cities are trying to encourage new business growth. In answer I suggested that there were three important factors that needed to be  in place:
1. Distinctiveness – the USP of the city – what makes the place special; its climate and its culture. Each city needs to be able to tell its own story. 
2. Universities and other educational resources – to act as partners to industry to drive innovation and provide a skilled labour pool. 
3. Great streets and public spaces – after all cities are about human beings needing to move around efficiently and also to enjoy being in the place where they work. 
Of course other factors are important: a reliable supply of energy and other services; sites that are ready for development and effective legal processes. But these are the obvious consistencies. 
Cities also need to focus on their story, their academic partnerships and the quality of their public realm: factors that can be neglected in the push to attract new business. 

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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Bill Hillier’s Smart London

Notes of Bill Hilliers opening talk about the NLA Smarter London exhibition, 8th October 2014.

Congratulations to the NLA and CASA for the exhibition.

It’s evidence that London is the original smart city – nowhere such a collection of top class practices, imaginative authorities and academic departments developing new ways of doing things, and new technologies –and talking to each other !

But I think London is a smart city also in another sense – the city itself and how it’s put together.

When I was young London was regarded as an unplanned mess, in need of being tidied up into a system of well-defined neighbourhood units separated by main roads – a bit like Milton Keynes.

I’ve been asked to say something about one of the technologies on show – space syntax.

When we apply space syntax analysis to London it suggests it’s not mess at all

That under the apparent disorder, there is a pretty smart city. Continue reading Bill Hillier’s Smart London

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).   Continue reading Building a Smart City modelling team

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. Continue reading From cities of movement to places of transaction

RIBA thinkpiece launched: “A SMART approach to digital planning & design”

The RIBA today launched a set of think-pieces on Digital planning: ideas to make it happen.

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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.