Notes from a meeting with the Beijing Institute of Agriculture and Forestry at Space Syntax London, 18th September 2013.
The rural landscape is a place of production. So is the city: production of goods and production of ideas.
Protection of natural assets in the rural landscape. Protection of historic buildings in the city. Avoidance of pollution in both. Protection of water courses – natural and artificial in both.
Avoidance of waste in both urban and rural settings. The rural landscape as the wastebasket of the urban landscape. Tension.
Conflicts in the rural landscape between local movement (agricultural productivity) and urban-rural movement (commuting). Tension. Read More
As a user of urban data I know the benefits that can be gained from visualising information on city form and city performance. But… and this is the but… these benefits only flow if the visualisation is followed up with analysis of that data – analysis that seeks out patterns, correlations and associations in order to make sense of the data. Then, on the basis of this analysis, it is possible to inform urban planning and design decisions – indeed I find that good analysis inspires design thinking, pointing the user in certain directions.
The approach we have developed at Space Syntax is to be simultaneously a) “data-light”, b) analysis intensive and c) outcomes oriented. I appreciate that we are using our Integrated Urban Models in specific contexts – usually in the crafting of public space designs, urban masterplans and, increasingly, regional strategies – but I believe these principles apply to whatever kind of modelling is being undertaken.
One of the weaknesses of urban transport modelling, for example, has been its “data intensity” – its use of multiple variables, coupled with a degree of data “manipulation” – at least this is what I’m told. The result is expensive, time-consuming modelling.
Another trend I detect is “data-as-art” – making visualisations, usually animated, of data flows. These create seductive imagery but I do question their purpose – because the analysis is often missing.
And therefore, for both of these reasons (data intensity and data-as-art) I worry that cities pursuing urban data initiatives may find that these become extremely complicated, expensive and unwieldy – if aesthetically charming – and I wonder what such data strategies would do to further the cause of cities. They will, no doubt though, reward their creators.
The natural shape of the network is a grid, not a tree. Trees focus on singular points – grids share the burden.
The natural shape of the city is a grid, not a tree. The evidence of history tells us as much. Rectilinear grids pervade the historic record – in the Middle East, Latin America, East Asia. The gridiron is not then a modern creation – it would seem we have always built grids.
Why should grids be as important – indeed fundamental – as they are? Read More
St Pancras Way will one day have active frontages, costing millions more than the initial HS1 investment. The blank frontages and negative street character that were originally built will eventually be transformed to create a place that London deserves. In the meantime, people walk through the loading bay, across the security barrier, past the blank walls.
Royal Festval Hall
One New Change
New Bloomberg Headquarters (under construction)
30 St Mary Axe
Heron Plaza (under construction)
Liverpool Street Station retail concourse
Broadgate, Exchange Square
Barbican Arts Centre Read More
Broadcast 26th August 2013 on BBC4, featuring Space Syntax analysis of Wren, Hook & Evelyn’s plans for rebuilding the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666.
“Using her skills to uncover long-forgotten and abandoned plans, architectural investigator Dr Olivia Horsfall Turner explores the fascinating and dramatic stories behind some of the grandest designs that were never built.
Destruction, whether intentional or circumstantial, often creates a clean slate and demands a fresh outlook in which we come to think the unthinkable. This programme looks at bold, and in some cases shocking, plans to make revolutionary changes to Britain’s biggest cities. Read More
Given by audio link to Darwin CBD Masterplan Workshop 1 on 21st August 2013.
Download the presentation, including voiceover
“Good afternoon, everybody.
My name is Tim Stonor. I’m the Managing Director of Space Syntax and unfortunately I’m not able to join you for the workshop today. But my colleague Eime Tobari is with you and will be able to address any questions you may have at the end of this presentation. I did though have the pleasure of being in Darwin a couple of months ago and had the chance then to meet colleagues and discuss some of the issues facing the future of the city.
Today, I want to give you a presentation about the Spatial System of the city – it’s route network, its streets, its pedestrian pathways – and how these can work to improve the movement of people across the city; the bringing together of people in space to trade socially and economically. And I want to show you the work that Space Syntax has done to date in analysing the strength currently of spatial connections in the city and then analysing some opportunities for future growth.
But I want to start by looking at some issues that face all cities worldwide, and especially the issue of the private car and its place alongside other modes of transport, namely public transport and walking. Many cities worldwide have got the balance wrong and they have over-provided for private transport and under-provided for those other modes to their cost. Read More
1. The nature of transaction
The principal purpose of cities is to facilitate human interaction and, as a result, socio-economic transaction. Cities are transaction machines. With the rise of online transaction, what will be the role/nature of physical transaction? How will the physical and online worlds interact to create a “digital urbanism”?
2. The nature of movement
In the 20th century, cities have grown at low densities, occupying ever larger spatial footprints. To overcome such distances, cities became movement machines. This led to the erosion of the street (in which movement and transaction both occurred) and its replacement by a twin system of highways and neighbourhoods: the separation of movement from “place”: the parcelisation of the city. And, with this came social isolation, sedentary lifestyles and obesity. There was a shift in the “fundamental urban paradigm” away from transaction and towards movement.
More recently, some cities have attempted to turn this tide with a greater focus on walking and cycling as principal movement modes – a more local focus geared towards the creation of “place”.
What are the future trends in urban movement?
3. The look and feel of cities
What will the physical-spatial signature of cities be? This is less a question of high-rise v low rise but more about high-density v low density. Especially about high-speed, divisive motorway (needed to connect low-density cities) or mixed-mode boulevard (possible if densities are great enough)?
What are the most effective street patterns? Land use arrangements? Transport mixes? What will future cities look like?
4. The modelling of urban performance
We have witnessed an institutional failure of international urban planning to create “place”: to create social vitality as well as economic success. Successes are exceptions to the rule. There is a lack of system-wide urban performance modelling: social, economic and environmental. Instead, there has been a historic focus on traffic modelling alone, principally private vehicle modelling. Cities have been planned with these models and have grown to be dominated by private vehicles.
What is the future of urban performance modelling? First, mixed-mode traffic modelling, including walking, cycling and public transport? Second, social, economic and environmental modelling?
How will developments in sensing permit more robust urban modelling systems?
How can changes in the fundamental urban paradigm (from movement to transaction) inspire new modelling approaches?
What are the key societal/transactional objectives around which urban performance models should be developed?
The high density versus low density debate is a blunt, catch-all discussion, which tends to divide opinion and create conflict. We need instead to find the issues that bring people together. My experience is that these tend to be about:
– sense of community and cultural identity
– sense of privacy and individualism
– access to urban amenities: work, school, shops
– access to nature.
There are apparent contradictions here, yet urban settlements handle multiple needs if they are laid out to be, first and foremost, accessible to all users. This comes down to the design of connections at every scale, from motorways to footpaths. It also requires a degree of constraint: you shouldn’t be able to drive through the middle of town at top speed but nor should you walk on the highway. Read More
Space Syntax is keen to play a role in initiatives that embed the Space Syntax approach in everyday urban practice. The watchword is “dissemination”. Our aim is to create a professional landscape that uses Space Syntax as an everyday approach to the planning, designing and general governance of places.
Here are some of my thoughts about the potential structure of an urban design course, which are largely about using this as an opportunity to break down many of the barriers that conventionally get in the way of good urban design:
1. combine art and science: especially the importance of a science-informed approach to urban design, which is often missing
2. combine creative and analytic/disciplines: bring together designers and analysts in an intellectual cocktail
3. combine design, planning, infrastructure engineering, finance, governance, legals
4. put the human being at the heart of it all Read More
Some advice for people promoting a Smart City approach. Prepare your answers to the following questions:
1. Why do we need “smart” and do we even need cities any more?
First, provide a clear and simple explanation of why cities are important ie what they do that is special: they arrange physical buildings within spatial networks to create intensifications of opportunities for people to interact and transact, socially and economically. Acknowledge the interdependencies between cities, towns and villages but emphasise the primacy of cities.
Second, explain how this process is facilitated by the propinquity and connectivity that cities offer – traditionally physical connectivity and, increasingly, digital.
Third, describe the threats to the efficiency of cities: gradual, sprawling growth; over-reliance on private cars.
Fourth, describe the consequences of inefficiency: economic inefficiency, social isolation, unhealthy living, short-term investment, environmental degradation.
Fifth, speculate on the further risks associated with a “same as usual” approach. Read More
This morning’s announcement by the UK government about the preferred route of the proposed ‘High Speed 2’ rail line north of Birmingham raises, quite rightly, the issue of economic impact and its geographic spread. Will the line draw commerce north, or make it even easier to pull southwards towards London’s greater critical mass?
One way in to the problem is to ask: who will take these trains, or rather: where will they have come from when they get on and where will they be going once they get off? In other words, to consider the total passenger journey.
History tells us through the footprint of human settlement worldwide that economic production is greatest in urban centres. The planet’s continued growth towards cities, despite all recent developments in mobile and online communications, suggests the trend is here to stay. HS2 should bear this urban imperative in mind. Read More