Category Archives: Business

SMEs and large businesses

We heard it said this afternoon (UK-China Sustainable Urbanisation Conference) that SMEs need large businesses to help them find work. I have a different perspective, born of twenty years’ experience in creating and running an SME, Space Syntax.

First, not all small companies want to become large companies. Bigger is not always better, yet this is the conventional wisdom. Small companies are agile. Large companies are often slow and conservative.

Second, small companies help large companies find work. It doesn’t only work the other way round. My company regularly introduces large companies – some of the largest in our industry – to new opportunities.

Of course small companies benefit from the strength of large companies. But don’t let’s think the large companies are doing us a favour. Far from it.

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Designing Resilient Cities – creating a future Avalon

Designing Resilient Cities – notes from Day 1
A note from the Vice-Mayor for Infrastructure to the Mayor

cc
Vice-Mayor for Sustainability
Vice-Mayor for Engagement
Vice-Mayor for Disruption
The Public

Avalon faces the risk of functional failure. The only way forward is to change.

Our infrastructure is inefficient. It needs to become efficient. This is not just a question of maintenance. There won’t be enough money to run the transport network, supply water, remove waste, provide broadband. Unless the city either shrinks to a size its current economic structures can afford; or grows to create a larger tax base – so long as the city can retain control over how that tax is spent.

The view of the infrastructure team is that Avalon should grow. But not off the back of its existing industries. These are running out of steam. The industrial infrastructure of the city needs to expand and to reinvigorate. Creative industries will be central to this.

A new population will come to Avalon. A younger population, joining the older, wiser and more experienced population that built the city’s wealth in the 20th century. Joining young people who, having grown up in Avalon have chosen to stay there rather than take the increasingly well-trodden path elsewhere. The city has seen too much of this. Its infrastructure of talent must be rebuilt.

And these people will need somewhere to live. Houses that are affordable. We need to build.

But this does not mean ever further sprawl into our precious countryside – which is too beautiful and too productive to become a building site. No, it means building on our existing urban footprint. We need to find space within the city, not outside. Some of our redundant industrial sites will provide excellent places for new housing: close to transport infrastructure, with excellent, ready-made supplies of water and power. We need to look hard at the vast city parks that were built many years ago and have simply not worked as they were intended – they have harboured crime rather than nurtured culture.

And culture is central to what we must do. Avalon needs to recapture the spirit in which it was first built: a pioneering spirit where anything was possible. Music, art, sculpture, performance: song and dance – we were good at it when we tried. The future memories of Avalon will be built on the strength of the cultural infrastructure that we put in place in the next few years.

And to achieve all of this we need to change the way that we make decisions in the city. No more top down dictats. We need a governance infrastructure that involves everyone: participatory planning, budgeting and decision-taking. An elected mayor for a start.
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Components of infrastructure
Demographics
Life satisfaction.

Transportation
– on ground
– above ground
– below ground.

Health
Not just
– physical buildings

but also
– insurance.

Security
– police
– building protection
– wellbeing.

Equality

Utilities
– water
– gas
– waste
– digital.

Green environment

Culture
– facilities.

Place
– connections.

Diagnosis
Avalon is…

Set in its ways.

Boring.

No desire to change.

Reliant on the public sector.

Declining core industry.

Few common places.

Weak cultural identity.

Car-reliant.

Running out of time.

Risks
Functional failure
– not enough revenue to run the city.

Fragmentation
– in governance, leading to rivalry and underperformance.

Disenchantment
– no sense of belonging.

Disconnection
– of people from planning
– reinforced by physical remoteness of outlying centres.

Civic unrest
– class distinctions, unintegrated, breeding distrust.

Poverty
– when older population retire.

Complacency

Cultural sterility
– no fun
– no stimulation
– no sense of belonging.

Industrial stagnation
– no innovation.

Objectives
Governance
– committees to reflect areas
– directly elected mayor
– participatory planning
– devolved management of infrastructure.

Identity
– common vision
– campaign
– slogan.

Industry
– built around the creative industries
– attracting people from outside, not only serving existing population
– business development area
– enhance links to surrounding agriculture.

Public realm
– enhanced

Consumption
– reduce
– reuse
– recycle
– multiple uses of each infrastructure asset e.g. reservoir is boating lake.

Housing
– more affordable.

Density
– intensify existing urban footprint rather than further sprawl.

Connectivity
– revitalise the centre.

Transport
– integrate existing modes.
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Designing City Resilience is a two-day summit at the RIBA, 17-18th June 2015. Avalon is one of four imaginary cities being looked at during the event in a creative approach that breaks the mould of typical, presentation-only conference agendas. By engaging in a rapid prototyping exercise, delegates immediately test the ideas they have heard in the keynote presentations and on-stage discussions. They also bring to the event their own international experiences.

The result is a two-way, creative conversation that produces a richer outcome: a set of designs for the transformation of the physical, spatial, environmental, industrial, educational, healthcare and governmental structures of the four cities.

Integrated Urbanism – Massachusetts & the United Kingdom Partnership Forum

Introduction
Good afternoon Governor Patrick, visiting delegates and colleagues from the UK. As a recent resident of Massachusetts myself, it is a special pleasure to speak alongside the Governor on the subject of data and cities: and to share some remarks on the common interest in this room: the science of cities.

Massachusetts and the United Kingdom Partnership Forum

A few words about me: I am an architect and an urban planner in private practice. My company, Space Syntax is a consulting company that specialises in predictive analytics – using data science to forecast the impact of urban planning decisions – the “what goes where and how does it all connect together” – on urban impacts such as mobility, interaction, wealth, health and personal safety. Continue reading Integrated Urbanism – Massachusetts & the United Kingdom Partnership Forum

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

New blog for Faversham Yellow Lines campaign

Information on the campaign against the painting of yellow lines across Faversham town centre has moved to a new blog.

Thank you for all the support so far!

Space Syntax: the push of intent, the pull of need and the resistance of the “pre-digital”

I was asked an interesting question yesterday about the barriers to growth and acceptance of Space Syntax and Integrated Urban Models.

I believe there are three important components to the answer.

First, the growth of Space Syntax Limited‘s business was robust for 19 years, following its startup as a UCL spinoff company in 1989 – until 2008, when the bottom dropped out of the global real estate market. In that initial period, the company’s turnover grew at an annual rate of over 20%. This allowed continuous staff growth and market penetration. During this time the company devoted profits to the production of new software and new research findings as well as a modest return to shareholders and staff bonuses. It invested this way because it was determined that its growth should be about long term success and sustainability, not short-term reward.

2008 saw the global financial crisis hit the urban planning and design industry at home and abroad. This disrupted the growth curve at Space Syntax for two years. The company is today back on an accelerated growth track having seen consistent turnover growth at over 40% in each of the past two years, the steepest rate in its history. Continue reading Space Syntax: the push of intent, the pull of need and the resistance of the “pre-digital”

Going to “work” is actually going to “interact”

Why is people movement important in buildings?
In a knowledge economy, the key role of buildings is the production and dissemination of new knowledge to drive innovation.

Awareness leads to interaction leads to transaction.

Spatial layout works with management style to create a “spatial culture”.

Corner offices v corridors
People should sit based on need not based on status. Needs change during the day and during the week so people should move. Offices should provide different kinds of work environment. Open plan and busy when you need more interaction. Corner office/cellular when you need less. Management should permit workers to choose where they want to sit – this is part of trusting workers to perform and businesses will perform better as a result of having great space and great people.

Effects of technology
Technology will not replace the office because what matters is making “first contact” and this is harder online – much easier face to face.

Going to work is about going to interact.