Category Archives: Unplanned & informal settlement

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 Space Syntax & the future of urban planning software

Tim Stonor – Minister of Planning for Urbania?

Yesterday I took part in a role play in Dr Mike Hooper’s class on “Urbanization & International Development” at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. The class was divided into three groups and given 20 minutes to prepare proposals for upgrading an informal settlement on land in the centre of an imaginary city, “Urbanopolis”, the capital of “Urbania”.

Each team then had 5-6 minutes to present slum upgrading proposals to the (apparently) notoriously short tempered Minister of Planning for Urbania – played by me! Continue reading Tim Stonor – Minister of Planning for Urbania?

Connectivity is only the beginning – networking is the goal

For digital users
2010 was the year to get connected; 2011 will be the year to become networked.
It is one thing to buy an iPhone, join Facebook and Twitter, get a blog, friend and follow. It is another to keep it all going.

Already, people are being encouraged to unplug. But why unplug when it is possible to network? How? The solution is to link Twitter and Facebook to a blog; to connect the blog to LinkedIn, taking advantage of the interconnections so that things are only done once.

In other words, connectivity is only the beginning – networking is the goal. And not just for tech geeks but for all users of urban places…

For urbanists
The 20th century was about cities getting connected; the 21st will be about cities becoming networked. Continue reading Connectivity is only the beginning – networking is the goal

Millennium Development Goals

MDG 1
Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

MDG 2
Achieve universal primary education

MDG 3
Promote gender equality and empower women

MDG 4
Reduce child mortality

MDG 5
Improve maternal health

MDG 6
Combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases

MDG 7
Ensure environmental sustainability

Dharavi – slum for sale

Notes from screening at Harvard GSD

The key issue is employment, not housing. Need to retain micro-industry as well as housing.

Resident’s comment on high rise housing proposal (but no clear proposal for providing places of work): “Will the oxygen up there fill our stomachs?”

Industry generates 750 million dollars per annum. Dharavi therefore as an economic object. Much of the economy is informal.

Redevelopment as a step backwards because people can’t continue their previous trade and have to shift to new trades – “lift men and doorkeepers”

“Let people build for themselves – give them water not money.”

SPARC:  Don’t leave it to the international developers.

The proposed redevelopment is not just professionally poor but morally poor because it raises expectations among the poor. The plan should instead be done by the municipality.

One objective should be to see Dharavi as a test case of dense, mixed use, low carbon community.

The lack of evidence seems important. Proposals being made in a vacuum of knowledge.

Bryan Bell – need to tap into social capital there rather than turn up in a Mercedes. 

Connecting the disconnected – how much is enough?

Yesterday evening, Ed Parham gave a talk at the Graduate School of Design on Space Syntax’s work redesigning unplanned settlements in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Despite the really awful weather, which turned Cambridge into a pedestrian sludge, there was a full house.

Ed showed how Jeddah’s unplanned settlements share a common spatial property of being locally walkable but globally disconnected from the bigger movement structure of the city. This supresses the economic potential of these places. To counter this, the Space Syntax team has developed Area Action Plans for dozens of unplanned settlements, identifying opportunities to bridge between the local and global movement networks with new streets lined with commercial activity. These streets allow the unplanned settlements to trade outwards in new ways.

The big question raised by this work is: to what degree should unplanned settlements be reintegrated into the spatial fabric of the city? To a degree, the spatial distinction of these places creates a cultural identity for the inhabitants, with certain social benefits. The risk of reintegration is that this identity will be diluted or even lost by the new flow of movement, social identity and capital through the unplanned areas.

Ed described how, in fact, a spatial hierarchy can be created that leaves much of the original spatial fabric intact, especially the fine-grained, more residential and more spatially segregated fabric that helps to structure the cultural identity of the unplanned settlements. The long audience discussion that followed Ed’s talk showed how relevant the challenge of urban connectivity is to urban practice.