Category Archives: Historical events

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,


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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

Centres and Cities

I’m sure you’re right about the link between street morphology and attractiveness to business. Centres seem to do one of three things through time. They either:

1. consolidate and grow (London, Paris)

2. move (Jeddah)

3. implode (Sunderland).

Oh, and some places:

4. never have a functioning centre (Skelmersdale, UK New Towns) because they were designed in ignorance of the importance of a) grid continuity and b) multi-scale centrality – properties measured by Space Syntax models


5. divide and reunite (Berlin) but we can’t blame the architects for that!

Email to Paul Swinney at the Centre for Cities

Ed Glaeser at the American Planning Association

Notes from Prof Ed Glaeser’s keynote at the 2011 American Planning Association Conference in Boston, 12th April 2011

A city’s “innovative density” is provided by its urban connections.

Historical urban growth and decline
Historically, cities grew by water.
As transport costs lowered (now 10% of a century ago) people and production did not need to be near water hubs – leading to suburbs and low density living.

Warmer cities grow faster.

The car is a product of a city (Detroit) but not the kindest of progeny.

Average US car commute 24min
Average US pub transport commute 48min

The hallmark of declining cities is that they have an abundance of infrastructure. Governments need to invest in people not in infrastructure. This was the mistake of the Detroit people mover, passing over empty houses on empty streets.

Cities that come back eg NY through the influence of financial markets – a fact that is not discussed enough.

Wealthy people live in and work in cities because, in terms of making money, intimate knowledge is more important than having lots of space eg the Bloomberg bullpen, modelled on wall-less financial market settings.

By being around smart people we become smarter.

More skilled areas have grown more quickly.

Cities are places of promise and poverty. Urban poverty is not sign of failure but of success. Dharavi attracts people with a promise of a better life; better than the enforced sterility of the suburbs.

If, when a subway stop is built, poverty levels rise in the vicinity of that stop, is that a bad thing? No, it shows that subways attract people who can’t afford to drive – this fact should be celebrated.

Roads and driving
The answer is not to build new roads.
Turner showed that “If you build it they will drive”.
Congestion charging is the solution. There is no right to drive in the Constitution.

Conclusions – Policy changes needed
1. change the US obsession with home ownership, especially large houses. Typically, even lower income homes in the US are 2x those in the UK and Germany – by making urban housing expensive, the federal government is socially engineering poor people into suburbs

2. change the US federal obsession with building highways, especially in low density cities

3. reform the schools system that is forcing people to suburbs in search of good schools.

Thank you for coming and thank you for what you do. Planning matters because space matters.

Anna Rose presents “CityScans” at the Harvard GSD

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On Tuesday, 5th April, Space Syntax director Anna Rose gave a talk at the Harvard GSD on the use of Space Syntax in planning and urban design. She began by describing Berlin’s spatial transformation during the 20th century, showing graphically how the connected heart of pre-war Berlin was then divided by the Wall and later reconnected with Reunification.

Anna then offered some thoughts on how the Potsdamerplatz development, including the Kulturforum, could be spatially replanned to better connect these important cultural and economic assets into the movement network of the wider city.

Finally, she showed how Space Syntax techniques work at the smaller scale of urban design, with the case of Old Market Square in Nottingham, where the design concept emerged from a spatial analysis of the site and its urban setting.

Tuesday, 5th April 2011 at 1pm
Harvard Graduate School of Design, Portico Room 121
48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Anna Rose is a German architect and urban planner and has led Space Syntax’s recent masterplanning work in Jeddah, Munich and Londonderry. She teaches with Colin Fournier in the MArch studio at the Bartlett, University College London.

Anna’s work is featured in the recent issue of Arch+.

She recently gave a presentation of the Berlin CityScans project at the Berlin Kulturforum.

Spatial transformation – Berlin

The following images of Berlin have been prepared by Anna Rose and Christian Schwander at Space Syntax Limited as part of a wider study of the city. They show the pattern of “spatial integration” in Berlin at three key periods in history: 1940, 1989 and 2011. The colours read like a temperature scale, with highest levels of integration in red, orange then yellow, and lower levels of integration in green, blue then dark blue. Spatial integration measures the degree to which an urban street is connected into the overall street network. Connectedness is a key influence on the social, economic and environmental performance of urban places. The effects of the post-war division are clear, with the once integrated centre becoming disconnected until Reunification after 1989.

Anna Rose gave a keynote presentation on the spatial transformation of Berlin on 3rd March at the Berlin Kulturforum.

Berlin 1940


Berlin 1989


Berlin 2010

Don’t fight fire…

World Bank data suggest an urban population in 2050 of approximately 7 billion, of which close to half will be living in unplanned settlements: favelas, barrios, slums. Delegates at this weekend’s Loeb Fellowship 40th Anniversary Reunion are necessarily concerned.

When the Fellowship was established in 1970, America was in turmoil with civic unrest across the country, major urban centres on fire, tanks on the streets of Detroit, the National Guard deployed against the population.

Faced with this extreme reality, John and Frances Loeb didn’t say “Let’s train a new generation of firefighters”; they decided instead to invest in a strategy of prevention.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. Continue reading Don’t fight fire…