Category Archives: Landscape Urbanism

We don’t guess the structural performance of individual buildings so why do we guess the human performance of entire cities?

The structural steelwork of a large and complex building would not be designed without running engineering calculations. Even the smallest of buildings is subject to objective structural analysis. No client and professional team would rely on guesswork, no matter how famous or experienced the architect or engineer.

So why do we leave the human performance of places to the whim of architects who run no calculations and rely only on their instinct and ego? Why is the science of human behaviour so poorly developed? Why is chronic failure still tolerated?

In the early sixteenth century, William Harvey challenged the medical profession to take a more objective, more observation-driven approach to the understanding of the circulation of blood. At the time, medical thinking was largely based on the beliefs of Galen of Pergamon, who had set these out in the second century. Harvey challenged a medical mindset that hadn’t changed in one and a half millennia. And he encouraged his peers to embrace advances in science that allowed new forms of investigation.

We can see a similar state of affairs in the prevalence of, and institutional inertia around, twentieth century planning. Based on belief, not observation-based science, a doctrinal approach to urban planning and design pervades the professions. This is the case, whether the specific approach is Modernism, the Garden City movement or (and especially) Landscape Urbanism. Each is to some degree unscientific.

These approaches propose different kinds of urban outcomes but what unites them is a belief that the future should look fundamentally different to the form of continuously connected, dense and mixed-use urbanism found in cities for as long as there have been cities – the kind of urbanism that architects and town planners visit on their holidays.

The kind of urbanism – and here’s the irony – that Galen would have recognised. If only architecture and town planning were stuck in a fifteen hundred-year-old mindset. We would still have vehicles on the road but we wouldn’t have vehicle dominance. We wouldn’t have land use zoning that generates long-distance commuting, traffic congestion and negative health impacts. We wouldn’t be encroaching on the rural landscape with semi-detached, density-fearing dwellings.

Fundamental change in our professions is needed and science has an important part to play. In the spirit of Harvey’s observation-based approach, we need to embrace the new capabilities offered by sensing, analytics and modelling. We need to understand how cities truly work before we then form ideas about how to change them. We must move beyond the beliefs of twentieth century practice. The evidence is there to demonstrate that practice based on belief hasn’t delivered great places with the consistency required either by the investors in them or the users of them.

We can learn from Harvey, even if our end goal is the urbanism of Galen.

Sustainable cities of the future – sketch

Notes for keynote at UK Green Building Council Annual City Summit, Birmingham.

1. Spatial planning & human behaviour implications of sustainability – reduction of transport carbon through shift towards walking, cycling & public transport

2. A massive shift needed in transport + land use planning, urban + landscape design, architecture. Professional inertia. Turning the supertanker.

3. A massive opportunity. Reason to turn.

4. Lessons from the past eg Pompeii, Brindley Place.

5. Examples from the present eg Darwin, London SkyCycle, Birmingham Charette.

6. UK government: Smart & Future cities agenda is a sustainability agenda.

7. Social inequalities dimension of sustainability.

8. Need to act at all scales simultaneously ie there’s work for all of us to do.

9. Challenge for modelling.

10. Challenge for research.

11. Challenge for practice: design, development & real estate investment.

12. Already being acted on. The supertanker is turning.

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 Planning and the Future of Cities

How might cities be planned in the future?

This is not only a question of how they might look but also, and more importantly, about how they might be laid out as patterns of buildings and spatial connections.

Laying out a city means answering two key questions: “what goes where?” and the “how does it all connect together?” The answers to these questions have fundamental implications for the social, economic and environmental performance of urban places. And the jury is out as to which is the best way to do so: to use spatial planning to create place.

The global urban risk is that architects and planners have created, and continue to create, highly unsustainable city layouts – car dependent, socially divisive, congested and life-suppressing. And, it would seem, the more technologically advanced cities have become, the less efficiently they have worked.

By contrast, the street-based, continuously connected grid – the kind of layout that the slow, incremental evolution of cities produced before the intervention of modernism – has largely fallen out of fashion.

My argument in this piece is that the continuously connected grid is the only form of urban layout that can deliver sufficient social, economic and environmental value. The only kind of grid that is truly sustainable. Continue reading Spatial Planning and the Future of Cities

AoU Landscape Urbanism notes & questions

These notes accompany a PowerPoint presentation Fragmented urbanism: the rise of Landscape Urbanism & the threat it poses to the continuously connected city

TS intro
This is a crucial moment for urbanism. In the UK, The Portas Review, highlighting the UK’s threatened high streets. Around the world, cities are growing faster than ever. But cities – as we knew them – are under threat.

First, from the car. Car-dependent urbanism is the principal form of urbanism on the planet. our cities have become so fragmented by road systems in the last century that it is now almost impossible not to be far dependent – not without a major demolition and reconnection programme.

Second, from designers, accepting of the car and intellectualising around this complicity.

The aim of this talk
I have been forming my own views about Landscape Urbanism and am looking to raise a discussion within the Academy of Urbanism and beyond. Do people agree with me? If so, how do we respond? If not, why not?

Summary of the Landscape Urbanism aesthetic
Parcels of grey wrapped by ribbons of green

Landscape Urbanism as anti-ecological
“If you have a culture that is fundamentally automobile-based, then an urban model that is anti-automobile is counterintuitive at best. There’s a strange precept these days that asserts that people will abandon their cars if we simply build cities that don’t accommodate them”.
Charles Waldheim

Island bio-geography.

Scale – JW.


Interim uses eg temporary food production. How can this be coded?

Layouts need to be walkable and workable.

Working with the grain of nature.

GRABS – green and blue spaces.

“It was good to find out about a new academic threat to good sense, and I very much agree with your doubts about the universal value of green space.

IBM Smart Cities, Helsinki – latest notes

9.50 Keynote

What will the future city look like?
The city of transaction

How to plan a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable city
The effects of the digital revolution on human behaviour patterns

Tim Stonor, Architect & Urban Planner, Managing Director, Space Syntax (UK)

Data is not the solution.
Turning data into knowledge is a beginning.
Turning knowledge into wisdom is the next step.
Turning wisdom into action is the key.

All of this requires theory.

Here is a theory of the city.
It begins with a description of the city as a geometrical configuration.
Of land uses and linkages.

Addressing the question that planners ask. That politician ask and demand of planners. That property developers make and lose money on.

What goes where and how is it connected together?
Continue reading IBM Smart Cities, Helsinki – latest notes

IBM Smart Cities, Helsinki

19th October 2011

Tim Stonor
“What will the future city look like?”

View the presentation

Themes to be addressed
1. How to plan a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable city.

2. Effects of the digital revolution on human behaviour patterns.

In addressing the question, “What will the future city look like?” I am less concerned about the visual appearance of individual buildings and more concerned about how the city is planned as a layout of streets, spaces and land uses.

Why? Because the spatial layout of a town or city organises the movement and interaction of people. Movement and interaction lead to social and economic transaction. These are the building blocks of society, of culture and therefore of being human.
Continue reading IBM Smart Cities, Helsinki