Connectedness & continuity

There is a view that the creation of continuously connected places leads to sameness.

Looking at real places suggests otherwise – witness the distinctly different quarters of Paris, New York’s strikingly heterogeneous local centres, or London’s urban villages. So what is it that makes this possible? One seemingly counterintuitive factor, it turns out, is a continuously connected street network.

Alongside the view that connectivity leads to sameness is the belief that, in order to create a locally distinctive centre, you need to clearly define it within the spatial network – witness the isolated enclaves in many (not all) Landscape Urbanism and New Urbanism projects.

Again, rather than obviously defining themselves within the urban fabric, like medieval castles surrounded by moats, distinctive local centres locate within street networks that are highly connected. But more than this, Paris, Manhattan and London are not only connected cities but continuously connected ones, where one centre adjoins the next and the boundaries between centres are often blurred in an unbroken grid of residential urbanism.

This reality flies in the face of the notions that a) connectedness creates sameness and b) distinctiveness requires spatial separation.

Indeed, continuously connected urbanism, like that of Paris, Manhattan and London, is not exceptional but typical. All urban settlements are like this. Not one or two centres, but an urbanism of many local centres, what Bill Hillier calls pervasive centrality.

The urban grid is the essential spatial characteristic of the continuously connected city. The grid enhances accessibility between people and goods; between people and people. It affords choices.

The continuously connected grid reduces the need to travel large distances for everyday activities – it encourages these things to happen closer to home.

Certain parts of the grid become optimised by virtue of their location in the network. They become natural centres so that, when people decide to open shops and services, they have a better chance of selling to a greater local market.

When these centres are not only closer to local people but also more “on the way” between other places, then they take on an additional urban property of being “en route”.

Every urban settlement, from the village to the urban region, will have many centres that are “nearby” and “en route” – each to a different degree from the others.

This differentiated hierarchy is a factor in the creation of cultural identity.

And this is why continuously connected places are never the same.

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