Notes of Bill Hilliers opening talk about the NLA Smarter London exhibition, 8th October 2014.
Congratulations to the NLA and CASA for the exhibition.
It’s evidence that London is the original smart city – nowhere such a collection of top class practices, imaginative authorities and academic departments developing new ways of doing things, and new technologies –and talking to each other !
But I think London is a smart city also in another sense – the city itself and how it’s put together.
When I was young London was regarded as an unplanned mess, in need of being tidied up into a system of well-defined neighbourhood units separated by main roads – a bit like Milton Keynes.
I’ve been asked to say something about one of the technologies on show – space syntax.
When we apply space syntax analysis to London it suggests it’s not mess at all
That under the apparent disorder, there is a pretty smart city. Read More
“Cul de sac layouts may be the opium of the unwary – seemingly an analgesic against high-density urbanism – but beware the risks of over-indulgence”.
Steve Morgan, founder of housebuilder Redrow, attacks high-density urbanism in today’s Building Design. He says:
“Build cul de sacs because that’s how people want to live”.
This reminds me of some other things I’ve heard:
“Give them salty food because they enjoy the taste.”
“Let them smoke ciggies because it keeps them calm.”
“If the scope of urban policy makers can be widened from a fixation on transport to an appreciation of value-rich urban outcomes, built on the benefits of effective human transaction, then future cities are more likely to be places that meet the expectations of future citizens.”
Cities are ultimately vessels for the concentrated production and sustenance of life. Yet this intrinsic aspect of urbanism – the human factor – is neglected in many future cities discussions, which are instead dominated by the subject of transport and the use of technology to manage existing traffic systems more efficiently. Read More
Good afternoon Governor Patrick, visiting delegates and colleagues from the UK. As a recent resident of Massachusetts myself, it is a special pleasure to speak alongside the Governor on the subject of data and cities: and to share some remarks on the common interest in this room: the science of cities.
A few words about me: I am an architect and an urban planner in private practice. My company, Space Syntax is a consulting company that specialises in predictive analytics – using data science to forecast the impact of urban planning decisions – the “what goes where and how does it all connect together” – on urban impacts such as mobility, interaction, wealth, health and personal safety. Read More
The RIBA today launched a set of think-pieces on Digital planning: ideas to make it happen.
For too long, architects and urban planners have pursued the myth that human scale means “local” scale. In doing so, they have downscaled space, thinking that by fragmenting and disconnecting towns and cities into small enclaves they would be creating “community”. They were wrong.
Isolated and disconnected, people on inner -city housing estates, new towns and sprawling housing developments have found it hard to form social networks. To engage with the outside world. To be human.
And this form of urban planning prevails, being exported to developing cities worldwide.
In contrast, human scale is a combination of the local and the global, acting simultaneously on the individual. We are, unsurprisingly, more sophisticated than we were given credit for.
What do I mean? Well, consider having a doorstep conversation with a neighbour while watching the world go by on your street, or a coffee with a friend on the High Street. These are simultaneous local:global experiences.
Space Syntax analysis identifies the places where shops are most likely to locate in historic towns and cities. Using network models to study patterns of street connectivity, we find that shops are usually in locations that are simultaneously embedded in both local and global movement networks. Where everyday movement criss-crosses, be that local, short-distance movement or larger distance, global movement.
We call this “multi-scale” analysis and the places it identifies are multi-scale places.
Human behaviour is no mystery when the right kind of science is directed towards its understanding.
And the key finding for the creation of future urban settlement is that we need to think more globally. To connect more. To embrace the outside world more. To create more multi-scale places.
To make places work more effectively at the local scale we need to connect them more effectively at the global.
We need to see the human scale as a multi-scale phenomenon.
Digital Urbanism has two key components:
That organisations and individuals are involved in the creation, collection, visualisation and analysis of data, leading to the creation, through computing, of modelling tools and predictive analytics. This kind of activity is now central to the operations of public and private organisations. It is no longer peripheral.
2. Human behaviour
That people now think about places online as well as places on land; that cyberspace is as real as physical space; that networked computing means we have moved beyond the single chatroom and into the interconnected “place-web”.
These, I believe, are the twin aspects of Digital Urbanism and, of the two, the second is the primus inter pares because human behaviour patterns should drive computing activities.
I’m sure you’re right about the link between street morphology and attractiveness to business. Centres seem to do one of three things through time. They either:
1. consolidate and grow (London, Paris)
2. move (Jeddah)
3. implode (Sunderland).
Oh, and some places:
4. never have a functioning centre (Skelmersdale, UK New Towns) because they were designed in ignorance of the importance of a) grid continuity and b) multi-scale centrality – properties measured by Space Syntax models
5. divide and reunite (Berlin) but we can’t blame the architects for that!
Email to Paul Swinney at the Centre for Cities
This is a model of the spatial infrastructure of Great Britain (and will soon include Northern Ireland to become a model of the United Kingdom). It allows us to zoom in and out on cities, towns and villages as well as the connections between them. It also lets us understand the hierarchy of connections at different scales – which routes are more important at a local, pedestrian scale and which are more important at a cross-country, car scale. More important routes are coloured red, then orange and green to less well connected routes in blue. Read More
Stub…notes for an upcoming conference talk
Key issue to be addressed:
– Urban-Rural development
– Urban Regeneration
– Smart Cities.
When a network of streets is laid out, planners and designers build in an enormous amount of “embedded potential”:
- the pattern of movement
- land use potential
- land value
- social interaction
- public health
- carbon emissions.
The design of the street network has a fundamental and measurable influence on each of the above.
Later changes – to land use pattern or to the local design of streets (eg road widening or narrowing, adding cycle lanes or public transport) – can enhance or even diminish these potentials, but such later changes always occur around a benchmark that is set by spatial configuration decisions.
Buildings come and go – are built and demolished – but the spatial network, once laid out, is harder to adjust.
Exceptional new connections – such as bridges – can be built to connect disconnected networks but grids are resilient to change. Therefore, putting the wrong grid into an urban development can be a pathological move, setting the socio-economic potential of places for generations to come.
How do we know this?
The evidence-base: post-war housing estates; UK New Towns. Places that go wrong within a generation, if that – sometimes within a few years. Car-dominant transport planning. Land use zoning.
Risk of failed UK models.
In finding a balance between the tension of urban and rural development, Chinese towns and cities should learn from China first:
– mixed use planning: marginal separation by linear integration.
– mixed mode planning: roads, streets, lanes, canals: Jiading.
– mixed character planning.
What are the Spatial Layout requirements?
The historic Chinese grid: rectilinear hierarchy.
To be developed…
The comparison between SkyCycle – a proposal to create a network of strategic cycling routes above London’s radial railway lines – and the City of London’s much maligned network of (unbuilt or demolished) upper level walkways is one worthy of attention.
1. The City of London “Pedways” often paralleled routes at street level. When they did so they effectively split the pedestrian flow between upper level and street level – thus typically making neither level particularly/sufficiently vibrant. This is why most of them did not work or were resisted from being built in the first place.
However, as all good students of spatial networks understand, not all links are equal. When upper level walkways genuinely create routes that are not available at ground level then the evidence of observation surveys shows that they can be very well used. Some of the upper level routes through the Barbican are as well used as ground level residential streets elsewhere in London. Reality is, as always, more subtle than simplistic classification.
2. In contrast, SkyCycle follows railway lines that have historically created morphological “fissures” in the street network either side of them. In this way SkyCycle does not recreate routes that are already available. Instead, it create new routes.
3. Spatially, these SkyCycle routes have two important characteristics:
a) because they connect directly from the edge of London to the centre, linking to the ground level at accessible points in the street network (identified by Space Syntax through spatial accessibility analysis) SkyCycle routes add to London’s “foreground network” of important arterials (the red and orange links in a Space Syntax map of London).
I was asked an interesting question yesterday about the barriers to growth and acceptance of Space Syntax and Integrated Urban Models.
I believe there are three important components to the answer.
First, the growth of Space Syntax Limited‘s business was robust for 19 years, following its startup as a UCL spinoff company in 1989 – until 2008, when the bottom dropped out of the global real estate market. In that initial period, the company’s turnover grew at an annual rate of over 20%. This allowed continuous staff growth and market penetration. During this time the company devoted profits to the production of new software and new research findings as well as a modest return to shareholders and staff bonuses. It invested this way because it was determined that its growth should be about long term success and sustainability, not short-term reward.
2008 saw the global financial crisis hit the urban planning and design industry at home and abroad. This disrupted the growth curve at Space Syntax for two years. The company is today back on an accelerated growth track having seen consistent turnover growth at over 40% in each of the past two years, the steepest rate in its history. Read More
“Smart” is too often, too narrowly defined in terms of the benefits of digital technology. Of course, digital technology can help cities to be smarter. But being smart means much more than that.
My own preference is to define “smart” by focusing on three factors:
2. the information that people receive
3. the behaviours that then follow.
Smart Cities create behaviour changes that benefit social, economic and environmental outcomes.
Behaviours rely on information, which can be derived from many sources: certainly, from digital sensing and smartphone displays but also from the physical and spatial world that surrounds city users. From shop windows that reveal the contents of their interiors; from a glimpse down a lane that lands on the sign outside the pub; from the faces of other people – the human display. Each of these sources provides information that influences human behaviour. Each has its place in the definition of a Smart City.
Smart digital technology – the sensing, the display, and everything in between – helps people to be smart but the sum of digital technology does not create the Smart City. There are other non-digital technologies to consider:
– the street layout of a city is a technology, guiding the movement patterns of people through the connections it affords, prioritising certain streets by virtue of their greater connectivity and backgrounding others that connect less well
– a social network of human relations is facilitated by the same technology and becomes a technology in itself: a powerful repository of knowledge and intelligence.
The spatial and social fabrics of the city are machines in their own ways, with mechanisms that deserve equal attention to digital technologies when it comes to defining the Smart City.
People – the ultimate consumers of information – should be put at the centre of the Smart City. Their behaviours should be enabled by both digital and non-digital technologies. Because these behaviours rely on information sources, the places in which people move and interact in the city should be created to act as efficient information devices. They should be clearly laid out to optimise information flow as well as comfortably furnished to support effective – call it “smart” – human transaction.
Smart = human behaviour * technological (Digital * nonDig) behaviour
Inspired by a conversation with Michael Mulquin
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. Read More