Portland: city of hub and spoke centrality

Thank you to all the people that kindly hosted me in Portland over the past three days: Portland Bright Lights, the City of Portland, Portland State University, Ankrom Moisan and Portland TriMet. Thank you to everyone that came to hear me speak – five talks in three days was a challenge that I was happy to accept. To those of you who came more than once, I salute your interest as well as your patience.  

My first presentation, “From highways to handshakes” is now online.

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Technology & Serendipity: Stumbling in the City

Monday, 31st January at 6:30pm
Stubbins Room, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Loeb Fellowship Spring Seminars
Much, Much More with Much, Much Less

The Loeb Fellows invite… 
Ethan Zuckerman, Senior Researcher, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society  
Moderated by Nicco Mele, Adjunct Lecturer, Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Founder of EchoDitto

For thousands of years, social networks have been transacted in the physical space of buildings and cities. Facebook and Twitter have changed the landscape of transaction. To what degree is this a good thing? Do digital networks create new, unexpected and beneficial forms of transaction? Or, do they just reinforce ties with people we already know? Do these digital interactions change the ways that people behave in physical space? How should urban planners and designers be responding? Read More

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. 

Weekly update

17-23rd January 2011
Boston/Cambridge spatial modelling & analysis with Ed Parham in preparation for presentations on Tuesday.

Boston, City Hall Plaza meeting with Kairos Shen, Planning Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Cambridge City Council meeting with Community Development Department.

Meeting with Ethan Zuckerman and Chee Pearlman in preparation for Loeb Fellowship seminar on Technology at the Harvard Graduate School of Design on 31st January.

EP presenting “Planning the unplanned” evening talk at the Harvard GSD.

Dinner with Ed Parham, Jim Stockard, Loeb Fellows and Loeb Alumni.

Meeting with Nicco Mele in preparation for Loeb Fellowship seminar on Technology at the Graduate School of Design on 31st January.  

Course presentations at the Harvard GSD.

Studio presentations at the Harvard GSD.

Meeting with Rahul Mehrotra’s Mumbai studio at the Harvard GSD.

Meeting with Randy Gragg to prepare for next week’s visit to Portland.

The pace of change – is “online” a reflection of “urban”?

One of the challenges in achieving an integration of thinking between hackers and urbanists is the rate of change online. Will the massive experimentation currently underway on the internet continue at a pace, or settle down as norms are established and protocols emerge? Perhaps the same protocols that make it possible for people to live in cities. We sometimes call them “manners” or “cultural norms” and we know when they are being broken. Equally so, we call them street networks and we generally understand now to navigate them. We don’t all have to follow manners and streets but they offer a guide to behaviour and they make the difference between structured living and chaos.

How social networking protocols are established online will, in return, influence the social dynamic of future city living, perhaps as much as the efforts of planners and architects to structure social encounter by virtue of where we place things (buildings) and how we connect them together (streets, utilities and transport networks). This is because the people using online space and the people using urban space are the same people. Read More

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. Read More

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.

Weekly update

10-16th January 2011

General catch-up with network after Christmas holidays.

Preparation of teaching material for Harvard teaching later in the week. 

MAS meeting with AR, ET and RS to prepare MAS strategy for 2011.

Urban Land Institute conference call to prepare for evening event in late January with TS as speaker.

EP arrives.

Day One of “Introduction to Space Syntax theory, technology & practice” at Harvard Graduate School of Design – TS leads the teaching.

AFF Germany discussion with AR and CSc about SSx strategy towards working in Germany.

Boston, City Hall Plaza site visit with EP.

Day Two of “Introduction to Space Syntax theory, technology & practice” at Harvard Graduate School of Design – EP leads the teaching.

Open Source Urban Planning Software conference call with OS developers throughout the USA.

Boston/Cambridge spatial modelling & analysis with EP in preparation for presentations next week.

From landscapes of extraction to creative industries of organic matter & waste

​​Monday, 14th February 2011 at 6pm
Stubbins Room, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Pablo Rey, Basurama
Manolo Mansylla, Trashpatch
Robin Nagle, anthropologist of material culture (waste)
Scientist doing research in biomaterials (Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering/ Materials Research Science and Engineering Center – School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)

Richard Forman
Technology has no limits. Science has no limits. Human creativity and imagination have no limits. The limits are imposed by matter. Raw materials are being extracted from the remotest of geographies and we are beginning to exhaust the last reservoirs of available minerals in order to perpetuate a production system based on disposability and the consumption of wholes, not parts; of large, not small; of new, not old; of multiple, not the one that is needed. In order to extract such minerals, we often deplete forests, along with the cultures that inhabit them, or contaminate river basins. Science and technology can produce brilliant responses to our environmental problems, but unless they take into account the source of the materials they consume, the counter landscapes of extraction, those of waste and slums (people get displaced as we render their land useless through monoculture or extraction), will continue to grow; setting off our good intentions to move towards a more sustainable future. Read More

Upcoming talk: “From highways to handshakes – taming roads for people”

Monday, 24th January at 6:00pm
Jimmy Mak’s, 221 NW Tenth Ave., Portland OR

A conversation with Tim Stonor of the renowned London-based planning firm Space Syntax

When it comes to transportation, planners use “science” for cars but more often “intuition” for pedestrians. Elaborate computer models have been developed to model traffic scenarios for vehicles, but when it comes to forecasting how people will move on two feet, it’s all observation and guesswork. In the 1990s, the London-based firm, Space Syntax, changed all of that. Mapping neighborhoods from a pedestrian eye-level and then applying relatively simple algorithms to model behavior, Space Syntax developed robust new computer predictions that led the way to successfully pedestrianizing such car-choked places as Trafalgar Square in London and Old Maket Square in Nottingham. Today, with 13 offices across the globe, the firm is leading the design and redesign of districts in cities as diverse as Jeddah and Beijing. Stonor will speak about the development of and the ever-expanding use of Space Syntax’s techniques and will offer thoughts on the relationship between the centre and the suburbs in Portland. Read More

Upcoming talk: “Planning the unplanned: An evidence-based approach to design in informal settlements”

Harvard Graduate School of Design, 18th January 2011, 6:30pm

With the world population of slum dwellers set to increase to 2 billion over the next 30 years, the need to provide adequate living conditions for the urban poor is recognised as a major challenge. Political and economic pressure to implement improvements quickly, often means that the contribution slums make to the wider city is not recognised as part of the solution.

Using the case study of his work in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Ed Parham of Space Syntax will explain how advanced techniques of spatial analysis have been used to identify a core spatial problem at the heart of the slum condition. These techniques have been used further to develop solutions in the form of individual area profiles, city-wide prioritisation strategies, settlement-specific needs-based improvement strategies, and to help generate detailed area action plans. Based on in-depth knowledge of the role and importance of spatial networks in cities, these solutions can be implemented incrementally and flexibly with the long-term aim of reintegrating the unplanned settlements, and their residents, through the minimum disruption.

If planning doesn’t work, is the answer chaos? Surely not…

“I mean, bluntly, there comes a question in life – do you believe planning works, that clever people sitting in a room can plan how people’s communities should develop? Or do you believe it can’t work?

“I believe it can’t work, David Cameron believes it can’t, Nick Clegg believes it can’t. Chaotic therefore in our vocabulary is a good thing.

“Chaotic is what our cities are when we see how people live, where restaurants spring up, where they close, where people move to.

“Would you like to live in a world where you could predict any of that? I certainly wouldn’t.”
Nicholas Boles, Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford

Nicholas Boles’ remarks are understandable but at the same time worrying for many involved in the planning, design and management of places, urban or rural. Thinking that the answer to planning is chaos not only questions the budgets currently allocated to the activity but also critiques the intellectual basis of the profession.

Understandable because, from failed housing estates to the Dome, the UK planning system has a poor record of doing things “top-down”.

Worrying because people who have taken time to study how cities evolve have concluded that they do so in ways that are far from chaotic. Instead, urban scientists, such as Prof Bill Hillier of University College London, have found that places are structured by the interplay between the attraction of assets and the location of these in the spatial network of towns and cities. Successful places have attractive assets and effective spatial networks. Having both makes planning and managing such places all the easier. Placing key assets in the wrong place – like the Dome, which was built at the tip of a poorly connected peninsula – is a recipe for failure.

Urban experts have also found that places are, at best, probabilistic in the way they operate, never deterministic. You can’t make anything happen – only provide conditions that facilitate things happening.

The problem for some people is that this kind of analysis is often too subtle and sophisticated. People are looking for simple answers. So, when Nicholas Boles concludes that planning doesn’t work, he announces that the answer lies in a soundbite: chaos.

Saying that chaos is the answer to top-down planning is akin to saying that anarchy is the answer to autocracy. Far from it, the answer is not in chaos but in a looser fit form of planning that recognises the fact that cities work well when individual acts of settlement and occupation occur within a well connected and well maintained movement network; when attractors are well located; when the street system promotes walking, cycling and public transport as well as the car.

It is a fantasy to think that this will happen unless the efforts of individuals are emboldened by a vision and coordinated as a system. We used to call this planning.

Weekly update

13-19th December 2010
Final review presentations by students of Prof Richard Peiser at Harvard GSD.

Work on UCL Space Syntax software licensing agreement.

Work on Loeb Fellows Public Seminar series – Technology – with Chee Pearlman

Meeting with Space Syntax colleagues to discuss current projects and future business strategy in Germany.

Presentation to Cambridge Community Development Department. Click here to view the presentation.

Meeting with Armando Carbonell at the Lincoln Institute, discussing rebuilding after the Chile earthquake, open source urban planning software, use of social networking by US city planning departments.

Dinner with Nieman Fellows.

Workshop at Utile Architecture + Planning on Boston City Hall Plaza.

Day off for birthday celebrations.

Workshop at Utile Architecture + Planning on Boston City Hall Plaza.

Meeting with Harvard GSD urban planning students.

Research on open source business models.

Weekly update

6-12th December 2010
Space Syntax Limited Board Meeting.

Meeting with Staff, Board & Shareholders of Space Syntax Limited to discuss the Company Business Plan, with David Cobb of UCL Bartlett, Kathryn Redway & Martin Butterworth, MD of Space Syntax Australia.

Meeting with Staff of Space Syntax Limited to discuss a) technology development, b) company structure & c) timeline for Business Plan development.

Dinner with Prof Alan Penn (UCL Bartlett & Space Syntax Limited), Martin Butterworth & Dr Lars Marcus (KTH University & Spacescape, Stockholm).

Meeting with Space Syntax Executive Directors, Dr Kayvan Karimi & Anna Rose.

Meeting with Dr Steven Schooling, UCL Business to discuss software licensing & development.

Evening drinks reception with clients & colleagues at Space Syntax, including presentation “Fragmented landscapes: issues in North American urbanism”. Click here to view the presentation.

Meeting with Martin Butterworth.

Fly to Boston.

Final design crits at Harvard GSD with students of Simon Allford.

Evening reception with Harvard GSD staff & students.

Symposium on Boston City Hall Plaza at Boston Public Library.

Final design crits with students of Anita Berrizbeitia, Felipe Correa & Rafi Segal.

Weekly update

29th November-5th December 2010
Meeting with Space Syntax colleagues regarding international affiliate network.

Presentation to Loeb Fellows.

Reception with MIT SPURS and Humphries Fellows, with presentation on “The Just City” by Prof Susan Fainstein.

Meeting with Armando Carbonell at the Lincoln Institute regarding open source urban planning software.

Presentation by actor/activist Edward Norton & developer Jonathan Rose to honour James Rouse, master developer.

Meeting regarding working in Rio de Janeiro.

Presentation by Prof Rahul Mehrotra on urban planning & design in Mumbai followed by dinner with Loeb Fellows.

Loeb Fellowship Memorial Luncheon at Citizen Schools.

Meeting with Steve Coast and Prof Alan Penn regarding open source business models.

Fly to London.

Dinner with Space Syntax directors.

Social Entrepreneurship in the Built Environment

Tweetroll from an evening at the Harvard Graduate School of Design with actor/activist Edward Norton and developer Jonathan Rose

Social Entrepreneurship in the Built Environment
Piper Auditorium, 1st December 2010

Edward Norton quoting his grandfather Jim Rouse: The purpose of business is not profit but the provision of an authentic service from which profit is a derivative @HarvardGSD

Jonathan Rose
Cities are the answer to the increase in population and demands on energy.
People who live in New York City consume 25% energy of people in suburbs.
Birth rates a lower in cities.
Opportunities are greater.

Edward Norton
Jim Rouse: Assess the field of opportunities and go for the most difficult. Blow off people who say you shouldn’t because the most difficult problems are the ones that most people should be going for.

Jim Rouse: Intractable problems are problems of apathy and complacency and not of impossibility.

Jim Rouse: Form should follow function and function should emerge from the service the project provides, especially in the urban design.

Jonathan Rose: Cities are about connectivity, culture, universities, access to nature. Cities are not just piles of buildings clustered together.

Edward Norton: We need to promote a reboot of our sense of self. We are not #1. We are not who we project ourselves as being. @HarvardGSD


Weekly update

22-28th November 2010


Meeting with Space Syntax colleagues regarding company strategy in preparation for visit to London next week.

Call with Steve Coast regarding open source software development.

Meeting with Jim Stockard, Curator of the Loeb Fellowship.


Call with Bridget Horner, Director of Space Syntax South Africa.

Meeting with Harvard GSD design student.

Lunch with Sally Young, Program Coordinator of the Loeb Fellowship

Meeting with Kishore Varanasi of CBT Architects, Boston.

Presentation to Kairos Shen, Chief Planner and colleagues at the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Meeting with David MacKay regarding speaking at an Urban Land Institute event on urban zoning in January 2011.


Call with Steve Coast.




Thanksgiving rcess.

Much much more with much much less

Inspired by a comment by Rahul Mehrotra, “Much much more with much much less” is the theme of next semester’s Loeb Fellowship Public Seminar series.

The four seminars in the series will take place at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

The working titles for the seminars are:

Resources, Money & Economy
Food, Agriculture & Basic Needs
Process, Participation & Engagement

Dates to follow…

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