Achieving prosperous local communities – physical connectedness is key

Community prosperity means social, economic and environmental prosperity. Each of these dimensions is strongly influenced by the physical design of the places where people live. Physical design influences human behaviour, which in turn influences community prosperity. The most important aspect of physical design is connectedness. Connectedness can be measured scientifically. Its effects on societal wealth have been identified by UK scientific research over the last forty years.

This note summarises the main research findings of the Space Syntax research programme at University College London.

Local economic productivity
Better connected town centres generate higher levels of retail income. Better connected means stronger local “movement infrastructure” such as footpaths and pedestrian crossings, as well as stronger large-scale connections for longer distance journeys.

Total retail income is directly related to the strength of the local-to-global movement network. This means not only having more connections but having connections that form better networks that encourage access, browsing and transaction – these are the fundamental human necessities of effective local economies.

Community cohesion
People see more of each other in better connected places. Levels of pedestrian movement are higher in better connected town centres and residential areas, creating higher levels of social awareness. The presence of other people is a social good with economic benefits.

Personal & property safety
Better designed streets have less mugging. This means having streets with more houses along them, not fewer, so that there are more eyes on the street, more participants in street-life.

Better designed streets have less burglary. Again, this means more houses, more eyes, more participants. Living in a house on an urban street is not the safest place to be, and it becomes less safe the more affluent you are. Purpose-built flats are safer but residents of these contribute less to street safety. Higher densities of dwellings mean less burglary.

Better designed streets have less anti-social behaviour. More houses, more eyes and more everyday activity deter anti-social behaviour.

Road safety
More people cross safely when pedestrian crossings respect local “desire lines”. Well designed, well located “local movement infrastructure” encourages local journeys to local places and benefits both economic activity and community cohesion.

Property value
Better connected housing is more highly valued. Council Tax banding is directly influenced by spatial location. More highly taxed properties are more globally integrated in the movement network and less locally integrated. 

Energy consumption
Better connected places encourage shorter, less carbon-intensive journeys. Walking and cycling is only viable if the local movement infrastructure encourages it. Again, connectedness is key. 

Bill Hillier, Cities as movement economies

Bill Hillier, An evidence based approach to crime and urban design

Bill Hillier, Spatial sustainability in cities

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