Category Archives: Innovation

Smart City Planning & Design Principles

Smart Cities are smart in two ways. First, they harness technologies to improve the way that urban places are led and managed. Second, they create better outcomes for the people that use them. This two-pronged approach applies to all aspects of Smart Cities.

When it comes to the planning and design of Smart Cities, technology can improve:

1. the performance of the places that are produced by planning and design (the outcomes)

2. the processes involved in creating plans and designs (the inputs).

A Smart City approach should direct the capabilities of urban planners and designers to:

1. facilitate effective human transaction in new and existing places

2. provide access to places of transaction, both physical and digital: on-land and on-line

3. support the mobility required to access these places of transaction by providing networks of connectivity for all modes of transport, both physical (walking cycling rolling driving) and digital

4. take an outcomes-oriented (ie transactions & emissions) approach first and foremost, aware of the inputs required (ie materials, energy & mobility) to achieve these desired objectives

5. provide effective analytic and forecasting tools aimed at social economic and environmental impacts.

Urban data: some risks – unnecessary complexity and shallow artistry

As a user of urban data I know the benefits that can be gained from visualising information on city form and city performance. But… and this is the but… these benefits only flow if the visualisation is followed up with analysis of that data – analysis that seeks out patterns, correlations and associations in order to make sense of the data. Then, on the basis of this analysis, it is possible to inform urban planning and design decisions – indeed I find that good analysis inspires design thinking, pointing the user in certain directions.

The approach we have developed at Space Syntax is to be simultaneously a) “data-light”, b) analysis intensive and c) outcomes oriented. I appreciate that we are using our Integrated Urban Models in specific contexts – usually in the crafting of public space designs, urban masterplans and, increasingly, regional strategies – but I believe these principles apply to whatever kind of modelling is being undertaken.

One of the weaknesses of urban transport modelling, for example, has been its “data intensity” – its use of multiple variables, coupled with a degree of data “manipulation” – at least this is what I’m told. The result is expensive, time-consuming modelling.

Another trend I detect is “data-as-art” – making visualisations, usually animated, of data flows. These create seductive imagery but I do question their purpose – because the analysis is often missing.

And therefore, for both of these reasons (data intensity and data-as-art) I worry that cities pursuing urban data initiatives may find that these become extremely complicated, expensive and unwieldy – if aesthetically charming – and I wonder what such data strategies would do to further the cause of cities. They will, no doubt though, reward their creators.

Teaching urban design – a sketch for a new approach

Sketch…
Space Syntax is keen to play a role in initiatives that embed the Space Syntax approach in everyday urban practice. The watchword is “dissemination”. Our aim is to create a professional landscape that uses Space Syntax as an everyday approach to the planning, designing and general governance of places.

Here are some of my thoughts about the potential structure of an urban design course, which are largely about using this as an opportunity to break down many of the barriers that conventionally get in the way of good urban design:

1. combine art and science: especially the importance of a science-informed approach to urban design, which is often missing

2. combine creative and analytic/disciplines: bring together designers and analysts in an intellectual cocktail

3. combine design, planning, infrastructure engineering, finance, governance, legals

4. put the human being at the heart of it all Continue reading

Smart cities – why, what, how, how?

Some advice for people promoting a Smart City approach. Prepare your answers to the following questions:

1.      Why do we need “smart” and do we even need cities any more?

First, provide a clear and simple explanation of why cities are important ie what they do that is special: they arrange physical buildings within spatial networks to create intensifications of opportunities for people to interact and transact, socially and economically. Acknowledge the interdependencies between cities, towns and villages but emphasise the primacy of cities.

Second, explain how this process is facilitated by the propinquity and connectivity that cities offer – traditionally physical connectivity and, increasingly, digital.

Third, describe the threats to the efficiency of cities: gradual, sprawling growth; over-reliance on private cars.

Fourth, describe the consequences of inefficiency: economic inefficiency, social isolation, unhealthy living, short-term investment, environmental degradation.

Fifth, speculate on the further risks associated with a “same as usual” approach. Continue reading

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.

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.

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

EPSRC Innovate 11: Working with universities

London, 11th October 2011

Tim Stonor
Opportunities & barriers

Intro
Space Syntax Limited an SME working in the Creative Industries, specifically architecture and urban planning. A consulting company.

Engaging in projects from high value real estate developments in the City of London to the regeneration of slum settlements. Outside urban space & inside building space. Dealing with issues of movement & interaction and how these influence value: social, economic & environmental.

Specifically, engaging with the EPSRC in its key knowledge domains of:
Global uncertainties
Climate change
Energy
Continue reading

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.

Transportation
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.

Space Syntax & the future of urban planning software

Notes from a lecture given at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
23rd March 2011

View a summary of the presentation on YouTube

Opening comments

Good afternoon. I am delighted to have this opportunity to report on my progress as this year’s Lincoln Loeb Fellow. My brief today is in two parts: first, to describe my work as an architect and urban planner at the strategic consulting company, Space Syntax Limited; second, to say something about where I think my practice, and the field generally, is heading.

In doing so, I want to make special reference to new technologies and new methods of communication that have emerged in recent years.

A plan to transform an established business
“Space Syntax” is an evidence-based approach to planning and design, with a focus on the role of spatial networks in shaping patterns of social and economic transaction. First developed at University College London, it explains, scientifically, why the continuously connected city is a good thing and it exposes the risks that come from sprawl and disconnection. It has much to say about the benefits of density and the hazards of urban fragmentation. It gets us away from simplistic banners like “New Urbanism” or “Landscape Urbanism” by providing a detailed, forensic description of the city.

Space Syntax is best known in the UK but, over the last fifteen years, we have established a network of Space Syntax consulting companies to take the approach into a growing number of countries. Although not immune to the ebbs and flows of the market, we have a commercially successful operation.

Yet, in collaboration with UCL, we now plan to make it available at low or no cost, to as many people as are willing to take it up. More than that, we are about to open up the “source code” of the software to anyone who wants to get their hands on it. We are, in other words, about to publish the recipe for our secret sauce.

In my talk today I will argue that this can only be a good thing. Continue reading

Architecting the unexpected

“Serendipity”: it’s what cities have always provided but online environments only sometimes produce. Why “search” isn’t enough, hackers need to think like urbanists and the internet needs urban design.

It’s the start of a new semester at Harvard and there’s a real buzz about the place. I had breakfast with Nicco Mele and Chee Pearlman this morning and the Charles Hotel was a hive.

What a difference a day makes. Chee and I were in the same place yesterday and it was almost empty. On that occasion we were meeting Ethan Zuckerman who, like Nicco, lives much of his life and does most of his thinking online. He studies how people throughout the world use new media to share information and moods across cultures, languages and platforms.

Both meetings were in preparation for an upcoming seminar that the Loeb Fellows are hosting at the Graduate School of Design. Themed around “technology” this will be the first of a series of four events that aim to tackle big issues in planning and design, including food, extraction, waste and community activism. Continue reading

Good ideas come from crowds & liquid networks

An article on the BBC Business website neatly summarises Steven Johnson’s research findings on the origins of innovations:

“Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down; but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies, frequent coffee houses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent.”

“[Good ideas] come from crowds, they come from networks. You know we have this clichéd idea of the lone genius having the eureka moment.”

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

“If we can get to flexible wood, I am totally going to cut my own leg off.”

Ashley Vance’s article in last week’s New York Times paints an enticing picture of a future in which 3d printing can conjure objects before us at the press of a button. A 3d Hewlett Packard in every home will spray up a new pair of Nike shoes in a few seconds. Science nonsense? Some might think so:

“Everyone thought I was a lunatic when we started,” says one entrepreneur.

That was then. Today, commercial 3d business is growing at a pace. Continue reading

Londoners develop own space craft

As reported in the Times Higher Education Supplement on 17 April 1998

Julia Hinde reports on UCL’s novel architectural consultancy that aims to make money from the spaces between buildings.

How is it that some company coffee machines become the focus of office life, where deals are struck and ideas take shape, while others are purely functional? Why do some modern shopping centres take off, while others are seen as windswept and heartless and remain deserted?

It is down to “space”, says architect Tim Stonor, the business mind behind University College London’s architecture consultancy, the Space Syntax Laboratory. Continue reading