RE-MAKING PLACES 5th February 2008

Spatial diagnosis and design An evidence-based approach to the remodelling of urban and suburban centres
The role of public realm in re-making places is vital. Making it work is not easy, especially when the world of urban practice is divided into silos – including architecture, town planning, highways engineering, sociology, criminology, economics and, ultimately, the end user. We are educated largely in ignorance of our urban bedfellows but, in practice, we are expected to work together to deliver sustainable social, economic and environmental places. Having tools that overcome our professional divides by focusing on our common interests is the key to success. Tim Stonor of strategic design consultancy Space Syntax argues for the value of an evidence-based approach to the remaking of our existing urban communities.

Where should development go? How should it connect together? For me, these two questions neatly summarise the art and science of urban practice. They are asked by planner, designer and investor alike, at the large scale and at the small. If only the methods of addressing these questions were equally consistent and coordinated. Instead, the professions have typically met the challenge using different mindsets, different tools and different assessment criteria. The language they use is different. Educated apart, they sit around the same table but they don’t always know how to talk to each other. The compromise has been to divide responsibilities in crude ways, with planners working at the large scale and architects at the small; urban designers tackling the pavements and highways engineers the roads; one group

designing the destinations and the other the connections between them. It should be no surprise then that the urban landscapes of our towns and cities have been so frequently so poor, with communities connected by footbridges and town centres cut off by subways. The objectives of the Space Syntax approach are to develop and apply tools that speak a common language, are transparent, evidencebased and that support – rather than inhibit – the creative process of place making. The use of such tools in major projects worldwide, from the fine-grain of Trafalgar Square in London to the city planning of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, has demonstrated their efficacy across scales. Their use by designers, planners, engineers and community groups shows how they have been accepted by a varied user-group.

© Space Syntax Limited 2008 An evidence-based approach to spatial planning & design


land use patterns. movement surveys and “spatial network mapping”. the tools reveal the subtlety and complexity of human behaviour. land uses were zoned to concentrate functions in the belief that critical mass and clean borders were the solution. accessibility and crime risk or land values and potential retail turnover – outcomes that deal directly with the social and economic concerns of clients. pedestrians and cycles. “Behaviour maps” record patterns of activity and bring valuable evidence to the table that sometimes counters long-held opinions. In a similar vein. community events and design reviews alike.So what do these tools do and how are they used? Software-based. For example. mixing pedestrians and cars rather than separating them. The separation of car and pedestrian was once justified on the basis of convenience and road safety. how they remember where they are and how they think about where they are going. that the way we design those networks can either enhance or inhibit the ability of people to move and secondly. they provide a graphic and numeric evidence-base that demonstrates the way in which new development is likely to impact on the social and economic performance of towns and cities. All modes of urban space use .whether in cars or wheelchairs. that this has measurable effects on social and economic outcomes. or sometimes helps supports viewpoints. They do this by tackling the two key questions: where development should go and how it should connect together? “Impact” is measured variously in terms of movement flows for vehicles. © Space Syntax Limited 2008 An evidence-based approach to spatial planning & design 2 . Likewise. Why then are we working today in exactly the opposite direction to mix modes. It may be surprising to learn that such rich outcomes can be achieved by relatively simple inputs: land use patterns. mix uses and blur boundaries? The answer lies in the realisation that our previously unsophisticated methods of planning and designing places have led to greater damage than benefit. the attractors they can see. planning and urban design. This last factor is the key to the tools’ efficacy. Having an evidence base has proved important at planning inquiries. such places typically mix uses rather than separate them into zones. Once gathered. Evidence gathered about behaviour. A key element in the analysis is the systematic recording of human behaviour patterns – people watching. which the professions have worked unwittingly to deliver. A worldwide body of research has shown how the role of space in bringing people together or keeping them apart is fundamental. spatial network mapping analyses the public realm in terms of how people read it on the ground: sightlines. patterns of natural surveillance. crime patterns and land value patterns has shown how successful places are often ones that blur the boundaries between modes of use. on public transport. Hillier’s work has shown firstly. the evidence has revealed fundamental flaws in previously simplistic approaches to transport. angles. Here. the Space Syntax approach has helped to identify how social exclusion has a strong spatial correlate. Developed by Professor Bill Hillier and colleagues at University College London since the 1970s. cycles or foot – use spatial networks to move through towns and cities.

Copyright Space Syntax Limited 2008. However. economic or both – in particular many of the New Towns such as Bracknell or Harlow. Our challenge was to transform the existing town centre. Skelmersdale is a failing Lancashire new town. in an active. The image highlights the separation of the town centre (encircled) from the town’s major route structure. Following the hugely experimental and largely unsuccessful 20 century program of UK social housing. demonstrates exactly this diagnosis-prognosis approach. the tools have similarly been applied to “diagnose” the design element of the failure then “prognose” design solutions. © Space Syntax Limited 2008 An evidence-based approach to spatial planning & design 3 . th environment that offered easy access to open space.Many of the applications of the tools have been to retrofit or replace modern developments that have failed in some way – social. the town is now suffering from the very urban principles that characterised its development. yellow and green to blue for the least accessible. originally designed to provide housing and jobs for Liverpool’s working classes. mixed use. Skelmersdale. mixed mode. through orange. Lancashire Spatial accessibility analysis showing the major route structures within the town with red as the most accessible space. into an The first case study shown today. after failing to provide either housing or jobs in adequate numbers or of adequate standard. that also segregates movement modes and socio-economic activities. that of Skelmersdale town centre. vibrant centre associated with more traditional forms of settlement structure. seclusion and a traffic free environment.

feedback process that ensued resulted in a masterplan that all stakeholders could be confident would not only work by itself but strengthen the existing centres and sub centres of Harlow as a whole. By increasing the legibility and interaccessibility of local connections and allowing them to interface with the areas major route network. © Space Syntax Limited 2008 An evidence-based approach to spatial planning & design 4 . another failing new town presented a challenge with two major elements. Firstly. we were also able to forecast both the level and distribution of movement in the new proposal. we could simulate and confirm the structure of the town’s pedestrian and vehicular movements. of our spatial models and our experience in reconfiguring a number of new towns across the UK. our tools provided a common language with which all stakeholders could negotiate towards an agreed outcome. With major public and private transport connections leading to the area from all over central London. Harlow. prognostic approach was found to be critical in the development of the proposed masterplan. the potency of the evolving masterplan in realigning them. the proposal could capitalise on the areas globally strategic position within central London. to use the town’s extension as a catalyst for revitalising the existing town fabric without any major intervention. Secondly. our presence in stakeholder workshops eased communication and compromise between potentially disparate perspectives. the nature of Elephant & Castle as a route interchange is the key to its unique potential. Working closely with the Prince’s Foundation we were able to simulate the likely impact of their developing proposals both for the likely structure of the new settlement and the impact the extension would have on shifting centrality in the existing town. reveal their complete misalignment and test with quantitative rigour. Elephant and Castle is not failing due to misguided wholesale redevelopment but years of sub-standard disparate development that has systematically separated transport modes and uses and turned this once vibrant area of South London (“The Piccadilly of the south”) into a fragmented and deteriorating transport interchange. By visualising the likely impact of all forms of intervention on the socio-economic character of the town. the area is well positioned to become another major commercial hub in the “City of Villages” that constitute the fabric of central London. Firstly through extensive observations and spatial network mapping. to develop a large scale extension to the north of the town that would be successful in bringing an enhanced urban vitality and diversity to the area and secondly. test. However. The iterative design.Our diagnostic. Our involvement in the redevelopment of Elephant & Castle represents a very different example of the re-making of failed urban environments. Through the use Our ability to accurately identify points of weakness in the local street grid ensured that the development could make a maximum of impact for the level of intervention proposed.

new planning agenda in the UK as enshrined in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. with the emphasis of the Act on a new. dense and lively residential developments and major new public spaces have been made feasible. once again showing the value of evidence-based design. Concluding remarks Ultimately. largely because of the careful reconfiguration of the street network. Copyright Space Syntax Limited 2008 This new spatial structure also opened up opportunities for exciting new forms of urban typology. London Early sketch of the masterplan concept. mixed use. emphasising connections into the surrounding urban context. Second. 2004. experience suggests that it is this diagnostic-prognostic approach that the Space Syntax tools enable and their ability to suggest design directions based on locally specific analysis of social. The pedestrian movement to support a new central high street. the Space Syntax approach sits comfortably within the Perhaps the greatest success of this project so far is the degree to which the proposed development is supported by stakeholders on all sides. spatially based approach to planning. In this way. spatial and economic characteristics that may be their most distinctive feature. with the Act’s focus on understanding place at every scale. © Space Syntax Limited 2008 An evidence-based approach to spatial planning & design 5 .Elephant & Castle. First.

com © Space Syntax Limited 2008 An evidence-based approach to spatial planning & design 6 . used to the benefit of communities and investors www.stonor@spacesyntax. spatially integrated networks and mixed transport modes in small and large-scale design projects. or pedestrian routes can have centuries-long implications. based on the natural behaviour of users. intermediate and advanced levels of skill – the principles behind the tools are enshrined in current regeneration thinking. consultants and a growing number of licensed operators. So decisions about roads.spacesyntax. The influence of the techniques is thus wider than their immediate usage by Space Syntax researchers. Tim Stonor RIBA MRTPI FRSA Managing Director SPACE SYNTAX T +44 (0)20 7422 7600 t.Although the tools themselves require a degree of training to use – to initial. The experience from practice has shown how careful analysis and evidenceinformed design. Spatial layout is one of the least-changing things about place. can create places that are It is now expected for urban practitioners to recommend mixed uses. policy and practice in the UK and elsewhere in the world.

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