Category Archives: Carbon emissions

Integrated Urban Planning – balancing the multiple flows of the city

Notes for the UK-China Sustainable Urbanisation Conference in Chengdu, China on 24th September 2015


My job as an architect and urban planner is to design new towns and cities – as well as new parts of existing urban settlements. This means designing the multiple systems that make up a city. We often think about towns and cities in terms of their physical stuff: their buildings. Perhaps also in terms of their roads and rails. But for me the success of any city can be seen and measured in terms of its flows, the flows of:

  • energy
  • water
  • data

and, most important of all, the flows of:

  • people: in cars, on public transport, on bicycles and on foot.

Each of these flows is impacted by urban development: how much of which land uses are placed where, and how they are then connected to each other. Flows impact on other flows.

Sometimes these impacts are positive, sometimes negative. They have enormous social and economic implications.

Urban planning is as much about designing flows as it is designing buildings.

We live in an age of unprecedented computing power – this gives us the ability to better predict the nature of these impacts.

This is especially important to avoid the unwanted effects of urban development: congestion, air pollution, social isolation and unsustainable stresses on natural resources.

And computing can help create the positive impacts that are needed to support the essential purpose of cities: to be:

  • machines for human interaction
  • crucibles of invention
  • factories for cultural creation.

The last decade has seen the emergence of Integrated Urban Modelling. My company, Space Syntax, is a leader in the field: one of the UK companies referred to by the Chancellor as contributing to China’s growth and development. Working, for example, with the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design across China in Suzhou and Beijing.

Integrated Urban Models link the data generated by the multiple flows and reveal the interactions that help architects and urban planners create sustainable plans. Space Syntax has identified the essential role of spatial layout as the principal influence on urban performance. Spatial analytics are at the heart of our approach to Integrated Urban Modelling and we have made our discovery open source and openly available so that others can benefit too.

The Space Syntax Online Training Platform is a freely available, web-based resource through which urban practitioners, policymakers and local residents can equip themselves with information and skills to create more sustainable urban futures.

I’m pleased to announce that this platform is currently being translated into Chinese so that the Space Syntax’s discoveries and experiences can be more readily disseminated here in China.

Integration, balance, glue, pivot: space
In many ways, urban planning is the integration and balancing of multiple flows. Integration needs glue and balance needs a pivot. Spatial layout provides both.


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.


Spatial Layout as Critical Infrastructure

Stub…notes for an upcoming conference talk

Key issue to be addressed:

– Urban-Rural development

– Urban Regeneration

– Smart Cities.

When a network of streets is laid out, planners and designers build in an enormous amount of “embedded potential”:

  • the pattern of movement
  • land use potential
  • safety
  • land value
  • social interaction
  • public health
  • carbon emissions.

The design of the street network has a fundamental and measurable influence on each of the above.

Later changes – to land use pattern or to the local design of streets (eg road widening or narrowing, adding cycle lanes or public transport) – can enhance or even diminish these potentials, but such later changes always occur around a benchmark that is set by spatial configuration decisions.

Buildings come and go – are built and demolished – but the spatial network, once laid out, is harder to adjust.

Exceptional new connections – such as bridges – can be built to connect disconnected networks but grids are resilient to change. Therefore, putting the wrong grid into an urban development can be a pathological move, setting the socio-economic potential of places for generations to come.

How do we know this?

The evidence-base: post-war housing estates; UK New Towns. Places that go wrong within a generation, if that – sometimes within a few years. Car-dominant transport planning. Land use zoning.

Risk of failed UK models.

In finding a balance between the tension of urban and rural development, Chinese towns and cities should learn from China first:

– mixed use planning: marginal separation by linear integration.

– mixed mode planning: roads, streets, lanes, canals: Jiading.

– mixed character planning.

What are the Spatial Layout requirements?

The historic Chinese grid: rectilinear hierarchy.

Pervasive centrality.

A smart street-grid.

To be developed…

Smart Cities World Expo – speaking notes

Spatial layout influences
Human behaviour:

1. Movement

2. Awareness

3. Interaction

4. Transaction.

Spatial layout benefits
1. Economy
– productivity
– innovation
– building & campus performance

2. Health
– active travel
– access to healthcare
– building & campus performance

3. Social cohesion
– the spatial network creates the social network

4. Safety
– property theft
– personal attack

5. Environmental performance

6. Educational achievement
– access to education
– building & campus performance

7. Cultural identity

Spatial layout
Is defined by:

1. Location

2. Linkage

3. Layout

4. Land use

5. Landscape

These are each measurable commodities/parameters. They are the building blocks of human behaviour and, ultimately, cultural identity.

Our proposal
To put spatial analysis at the heart of city systems integration. As the common ground. As the core code of the urban operating system.

A smart city
Is one which:

1. recognises the fundamental role of Spatial Layout Design

2. embraces a technology-driven approach to Spatial Layout Analysis

3. embeds Spatial Layout Analysis in the Planning and Management of the city

4. evaluates investment decisions using Spatial Layout Analysis.

Urban Process Diagram


A short film about Space Syntax

Tim Stonor, Managing Director, Space Syntax
“The population of the world is increasing and, as it increases, more and more of us are living in cities. As cities have grown in the 20th century they have often grown to disconnect people.

Space Syntax has discovered that many of these problems in cities – disconnection, lack of contact between people, lack of access to jobs – come down to the way in which the city is planned as a layout of space.”

Ronan Faherty, Commercial Director, Land Securities
“As a developer, the most important thing for us is understanding the consumer and anything that assesses the consumer and helps us understand them provides real value. When you’re putting down a new property into an existing space we want to understand where consumers are coming from and then how they should engage with the property: where we should put escalation and movement and flows. Continue reading A short film about Space Syntax

Life by a thousand connections

The everyday actions of architects and urban planners influence the everyday physical activity of people by creating the networks of streets and public spaces through which people move. Similarly, inside buildings, the layout of space influences the degree to which people move around.

The precise mechanisms through which spatial patterns influence behaviour patterns are increasingly well understood by the academic community. Physical connections are key: well-located pedestrian crossings, cycle lanes, bridges over rivers and canals, simple and direct routes through housing areas and town centres. Well-located shops and public buildings are key: within walking and cycling distance. Good quality paving matters, as does good lighting.

Nevertheless, this scientific knowledge is not yet part of everyday practice. Some of these findings run counter to accepted planning practice, not least transport planning practice. Nor is the connection between planning/design on one hand and physical civility/health on the other embedded in practice. The world of architectural and urban planning practice is heavily silo-ed. Health outcomes are not a priority for architects and planners.

Continue reading Life by a thousand connections