Slide 1 Technology is the answer
I’d like to begin with a little scepticism about new technology. Of course “Technology is the answer“, said Cedric Price in 1966. He also said, “But what is the question?”
What are the questions that we are trying to answer in the pursuit of autonomous vehicle technologies?
I don’t think it’s enough to talk about intelligent mobility from the perspective of the driver alone. I’d like us to think about its benefits for cities as a whole. And the risks too, if we focus too much on the vehicle and not enough on what’s around it: the city. Read More
1. We need to have a clear definition of technology. Physical as well as digital technology. Users and uses as well as creators and providers. Pre-construction, construction, post-construction.
2. Because we’ve always had technology:
a. Writing (wooden stylus & wax tablet) movement
b. Air conditioning – occupancy
c. Underfloor heating – occupancy
d. The shower – personal
e. Bicycle – movement
f. Revolving door – occupancy
g. The elevator – occupancy
h. The car – movement
i. Solar panels – occupancy
j. The Internet – movement & occupancy
k. Autonomous vehicles – movement
l. Drones – movement
m. Photofungal trees – place
We’ve always had technology. It’s always changed. Perhaps the pace is accelerating globally (but we shouldn’t forget the industrial revolution).
3. What hasn’t changed is the fundamental purpose of cities: social and economic trade.
4. In the future, autonomous vehicles will change the nature of movement. They will permit people to be far more productive while they drive.
5. Another key, and consequential, change will be in the nature of physical connections, transformed from highways to streets. Connectivity (as Chris Choa suggested) as an asset.
6. Therefore the street as an asset. The piazza as an asset. Not just the buildings that line them. The suburban business park will go the way of the dinosaurs.
7. The nature of online interaction is a further area of significant new change.
Massive popular opposition to plans for a disfiguring roundabout leads to the City Council announcing this evening that it will go back to the drawing board. This is a positive development. A working group will now be established to look at alternative plans.
There are two different schools of thought about how to accommodate urban growth. The first says that cities should build more road capacity to handle private vehicle traffic. The second says that less space should be provided for private vehicles and more investment should be made in public transport and “active travel” i.e. walking and cycling. The first approach is generally more costly than the second.
The old school of thought has prevailed for around a century. The new school is relatively more recent, responding to the frequent failure of the former, where more road space has created more road traffic, which has created more congestion.
Cities all over the world are now removing expensive car-oriented infrastructure and introducing space for walking, cycling and public transport. Ring roads and bypasses are being unpicked and cities are thriving as a result. Look at Copenhagen, Paris, London, Birmingham, Boston, Poynton or any number of places that have employed the new school approach.
On Poynton…”This was the busiest junction in Cheshire, with 25,000 vehicle movements per day and the fourth worst performing retail centre in Cheshire East. It now accommodates a similar volume of traffic, but since average speeds have fallen to below 20mph, drive times through the centre are significantly reduced. Anecdotally people feel safer crossing the carriageway and cars will stop for them, make eye-contact and usually elicit a wave of thanks from the pedestrian.” The Academy of Urbanism
Road speeds are being reduced, from 40 or 50mph to 20 or 30mph. Not only on residential streets but at the intersections of major roads too. Why? Because when you slow traffic down it flows more freely. Why? Because at lower speeds, more vehicles can fit into the same space. This isn’t rocket science. It’s simply a different school of thought.
When a city pursues “old school thinking” of road capacity increases and banned turns then not only is this going to generate more road traffic it is also going to make it ever harder for people to do anything other than drive. In these circumstances, walking and cycling become harder. “Walking and cycling facilities” might be put in but these are often token gestures because they are fitted in around the needs of traffic. Desire lines – the paths that people prefer to take – are severed and people are encouraged to walk or cycle on unnaturally twisted journeys. What happens as a result? They don’t use these “facilities” and they take risky alternatives, dashing across road lanes or cycling among fast-moving traffic.
Old school thinking is voracious – once started it is hard to stop. Nevertheless, evidence, analysis and creative thinking can help. If there is a willingness to listen.
I speak from the perspective of practice – of having observed the behaviour of people on foot, on bikes and in vehicles in a scientific manner for over 25 years. Of having presented evidence of fact to local authorities and of overturning poorly thought-through, old school proposals. Of having designed alternatives that don’t put anyone in particular first but instead balance the needs of all. This isn’t about being pro-bike and anti-car. It’s about being pro-place and pro-cities.
And let’s be clear, new school thinking is fundamentally about being pro-growth. But pro a form of growth that is smart and sustainable: growth that doesn’t sacrifice the profound benefits of local places for the expedience of cross-city commuting, but growth that promotes alternative ways of traveling and enhances the attractiveness of cities as places to live in and invest in.
Newcastle City Council’s plans for the Blue House Roundabout are appalling and unnecessary.
I know the junction and have walked and driven across it more times than I can remember. The last thing it needs is what is proposed and I intend to do what I can to help stop the scheme.
There is already a significant body of local opposition to the proposals, for example:
“At present, it’s a busy, but functioning, junction occupying a particularly striking location – the intersection of two broad avenues of lime trees, some 130 years old, which cross the historic open spaces known as Duke’s Moor, Little Moor and the Town Moor. These spaces belong to the hereditary Freemen of Newcastle upon Tyne, who have been exercising their right to graze cattle here for a thousand years or so. They form a green belt around the city centre and make its inner suburbs surprisingly pastoral.”
Facebook and Twitter are both active:
Yet the more weight that can be brought against these unnecessary, expensive and car-centric proposals, the better.
Don’t let this nonsense be foisted any further. Take Newcastle forwards not backwards.
PART ONE – THE ELEMENTS OF SUCCESSFUL URBAN PLACEMAKING
How the site fits into its context, including complementary and competitive attractions; in other words, what else is nearby to which the design should respond? The success of any development, no matter how large, is a function of the wider setting.
The specific points at which connections can be made into this context, including public transport connections; in other words the “gateways” into the design.
The spatial layout design of the project itself in terms of its streets and spaces, whether public/private or open/covered, and the importance of:
– first, encouraging through movement connections between gateways
– second, providing a simple, intelligible internal circulation network through a grid of streets and other connections.
This is the most important of the five elements since the spatial layout, once created, tends to be the most permanent part of the development. It is the most expensive to alter once constructed since it sets out the footprints of buildings and, importantly, since it carries the bulk of major services such as energy, water and data supply as well as waste handling.
The quantum of different land use attractions and the disposition of these within the spatial layout both in two and three dimensions; in other words where uses are and how they stack up, especially the land uses that occur at street level and any other principal pedestrian levels.
The location of land uses should follow the hierarchy of spatial connections created by the spatial layout design, with the most movement-sensitive land uses located on the most spatially important connections and so on. This alignment of land use attraction with spatial layout attraction is a fundamental property of both historic cities and successful modern places.
How the spatial layout is “dressed” both in terms of the “green/blue” landscape of planting and water and the “architectural” landscape of building frontages at the principal pedestrian levels.
Here what matters is that the spatial layout is not overly fragmented or dispersed by planting and that the principal pedestrian levels are lined with open, active frontages.
PART TWO – THE DESIGN
The five elements of successful placemaking establish a framework for design practice. What matters next is the way in which these generic principles are translated into a specific design proposal. This is a creative step, which relies on a blend of imagination and craft, honed by experience.
The challenge for future urban practice is that the five elements are not commonly appreciated in the field of retail development, which has instead adopted principles of gravitational attraction that tend to create anchored, inward-facing, covered malls rather than open, street-based shopping streets, whether we call such streets “high streets” or “souqs”.
PART THREE – THE WAY FORWARD
It has been, and will continue to be, down to pioneering organisations to point out what is increasingly obvious to all but those who are too immersed in it: that anchored malls create sterile places; and then for these pioneers to deliver new places that work because they employ the timeless elements of successful placemaking.
Fortunately, this challenge is facilitated by the continued emergence of technology-based tools for analysing location, identifying points of linkage, testing different layout concepts and modelling the interaction of these with different land use and landscape treatments.
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.
The subject of “connectivity” is much mentioned in urban planning practice, not least by the Space Syntax community.
But what do we mean by connectivity?
1. Urban practice should connect across different scales of activity:
Urban Planning (macro scale)
Urban Design (meso scale)
Building Design (micro scale)
ie 3 scales of space.
2. Urban practice should also connect across different phases of activity:
Design (before construction)
Construction (during construction)
Operations (after construction)
ie 3 phases of time.
This gives urban practice a clear space/time organisational framework.
3. This framework can then be used to discuss the subject of connectivity according to several key dimensions:
Physical connections – connecting buildings, streets and spaces.
Human connections – connecting people with each other.
Environmental connections – connecting human interventions to the natural environment: climate, topography.
Digital connections – using data to support physical connections and enhance human connections.
Professional connections – connecting across practice boundaries.
Connectivity is key. But how we connect is complex and multi-dimensional.
How has Space Syntax been applied in China and are the findings different to those outside China?
Space Syntax is not a prescriptive planning and design methodology. Instead it is a culturally responsive planning methodology. It begins by analysing the spatial layout of urban and rural areas and studying patterns of human behaviour, land use and land value. It then shows how spatial layouts influence these patterns. And it allows planners and designers to predict the outcomes of their proposals with greater accuracy than they could before. But it doesn’t prescribe a particular solution. Instead it responds to local cultural differences.
For this reason I am keen that Space Syntax is used by Chinese people to study and to plan Chinese cities, towns and villages. Only Chinese people fully understand Chinese life. We can train Chinese practitioners how to use Space Syntax tools, but how the findings of the research are interpreted is a different problem. It is a problem best answered by Chinese planners and designers.
[Speaking notes for Tim Stonor’s opening presentation at the First Conference on Space Syntax in China, Beijing, 5th December 2015.]
Good morning. It is an honour to be speaking at this important conference alongside so many distinguished speakers and attendees.
My talk today will cover the past, present and future of Space Syntax Limited’s experience working on projects in London and around the world, including here in China.
As you heard from Professor Hillier, the relationship between academic research and practice is fundamental. Practice provides an opportunity to apply Space Syntax techniques – and it also provokes new research questions. Read More
Cargo bikes are an urban game-changer. The combination of online retail and out-of-town mega-distribution centres means that town centre retail must transform. Shops don’t need so much storage space because goods can be sent straight from depot to home. That storage space can be repurposed as retail or office space, bringing new life back to town centres.
Trucks can interchange with cargo-bikes at the edge of town.
Town centres don’t need large swept curves at traffic junctions, making it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to move.
Towns can be designed for slow but effective movement, with all the opportunities for socially and economically beneficial interaction that slow movement supports.
National government has strong convening power – look at this event today (UK-China Sustainable Urbanisation Conference).
In the UK the national government has created the Smart Cities Forum to bring together those involved in policymaking, research and practice around Smart Cities. The Government Office for Science has brought together cities across the UK in its popular City Visions network. A Future Cities Forum could continue this effort, perhaps merging with the Smart Cities Forum to integrate the national effort.
To set standards
We have already heard about the need for common standards in urban policymaking. The British Standards Institute and the Future Cities Catapult are creating a set of Future Cities Standards to provide a common reference platform.
To connect towns and cities
Individual towns and cities do not work in isolation. They form networks, with people ebbing and flowing between them every day. National government can help emphasise the importance of network thinking, thinking about the national system of cities.
Some projects are too big for local purses.
To step back
And let local places get on with the process of delivery.
We heard it said this afternoon (UK-China Sustainable Urbanisation Conference) that SMEs need large businesses to help them find work. I have a different perspective, born of twenty years’ experience in creating and running an SME, Space Syntax.
First, not all small companies want to become large companies. Bigger is not always better, yet this is the conventional wisdom. Small companies are agile. Large companies are often slow and conservative.
Second, small companies help large companies find work. It doesn’t only work the other way round. My company regularly introduces large companies – some of the largest in our industry – to new opportunities.
Of course small companies benefit from the strength of large companies. But don’t let’s think the large companies are doing us a favour. Far from it.
Notes for the UK-China Sustainable Urbanisation Conference in Chengdu, China on 24th September 2015
My job as an architect and urban planner is to design new towns and cities – as well as new parts of existing urban settlements. This means designing the multiple systems that make up a city. We often think about towns and cities in terms of their physical stuff: their buildings. Perhaps also in terms of their roads and rails. But for me the success of any city can be seen and measured in terms of its flows, the flows of:
and, most important of all, the flows of:
- people: in cars, on public transport, on bicycles and on foot.
Each of these flows is impacted by urban development: how much of which land uses are placed where, and how they are then connected to each other. Flows impact on other flows.
Sometimes these impacts are positive, sometimes negative. They have enormous social and economic implications.
Urban planning is as much about designing flows as it is designing buildings.
We live in an age of unprecedented computing power – this gives us the ability to better predict the nature of these impacts.
This is especially important to avoid the unwanted effects of urban development: congestion, air pollution, social isolation and unsustainable stresses on natural resources.
And computing can help create the positive impacts that are needed to support the essential purpose of cities: to be:
- machines for human interaction
- crucibles of invention
- factories for cultural creation.
The last decade has seen the emergence of Integrated Urban Modelling. My company, Space Syntax, is a leader in the field: one of the UK companies referred to by the Chancellor as contributing to China’s growth and development. Working, for example, with the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design across China in Suzhou and Beijing.
Integrated Urban Models link the data generated by the multiple flows and reveal the interactions that help architects and urban planners create sustainable plans. Space Syntax has identified the essential role of spatial layout as the principal influence on urban performance. Spatial analytics are at the heart of our approach to Integrated Urban Modelling and we have made our discovery open source and openly available so that others can benefit too.
The Space Syntax Online Training Platform is a freely available, web-based resource through which urban practitioners, policymakers and local residents can equip themselves with information and skills to create more sustainable urban futures.
I’m pleased to announce that this platform is currently being translated into Chinese so that the Space Syntax’s discoveries and experiences can be more readily disseminated here in China.
Integration, balance, glue, pivot: space
In many ways, urban planning is the integration and balancing of multiple flows. Integration needs glue and balance needs a pivot. Spatial layout provides both.
Notes for the Connected Cities Conference, London, 15th September 2015.
How long has Space Syntax been going?
Space Syntax was established as a consulting company in 1989.
Why did you set it up?
Space Syntax was set up to exploit academic research at University College London: computer-based methods of analysing space in buildings and cities and predicting human behaviour. I joined the company to practise a new kind of architecture: one more attuned to human needs and one powered by new analytic capabilities that de-risk an otherwise data-light and judgment-heavy spatial planning process, one which has a history of social and economic failure. Read More