Darwin CBD – Workshop 1 – Transcript of Tim Stonor’s presentation

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.

As a result we see the traffic jam as being a very negative symbol of many cities worldwide and certainly not one that Darwin would wish to have as part of its future. Alongside the problem of congestion we have the problems of sprawl, decay and pollution. As many cities have grown they have grown at very low density; the historic centres of cities have sometimes been left behind and places have become polluted as the basic infrastructure of water supply and waste removal have not been provided at the pace at which the city has grown. These are obviously all problems that need to be avoided in Darwin and they are issues that come down to the design of the spatial system. What is the right pattern of connections to make so that people do have that choice to walk or drive or take public transport? How can the road, the street, the path be a place that not just manages the movement of people but is also managing the below and above ground infrastructure of water and energy?

And I want to think about what the city is for. Why do we have cities in the first place? Why are so many people worldwide moving to cities at an increasing rate? And for me the important issue is transaction – the coming together of people in places to transact. And that transaction has three principal components. It’s social: it’s people forming relationships; it’s economic: it’s people trading: sharing ideas for a business purpose, for an academic purpose, for some kind of innovation. And together all of this creates a cultural identity for the city. And the degree to which the city does it well or badly is the identity of that city.

And so we like to say that cities are “transaction machines”. The better we design them – the more well-oiled they are if you like – the more likely it is that people will be able to move but also then to transact in them. And this is to the good of any city. The best cities, the ones that have the strongest economies; the ones that people want to live in because of the social dynamic of the place, are the ones where people can come together in space to transact. And the city is therefore a natural asset with an enormous intrinsic value. We’ve got to make sure that in Darwin we’re designing the spatial system to allow people to move, to come together, to transact.

Unfortunately though modern town planning has often reduced the ability of cities to transact. In this slide here you can see two images. On the left is Paris, a historic city in which the buildings face the streets; the street itself is a place with trees that provide shade, shops, cultural activities; there’s a wide pavement for people to walk on but there’s also a wide road for people to drive on. There are pedestrian crossings, places for people to cycle. In one street there are multiple opportunities for moving and there are multiple opportunities for transacting. This is a great street and it’s the kind of street that cities evolve naturally to produce. It enhances what we call the “movement economy”: the ability of that street to be an economic asset.

But then look on the right. This is the kind of street that modern town planning has created. The buildings face away; there are no pedestrian crossings; there are no trees; the cars go thundering up and down it and it’s a very negative place. Land value alongside this street on the right is much, much lower than it is elsewhere in the city whereas in Paris it’s the opposite: the closer you are to the main boulevard the higher the land value.

Why should we have got it so wrong? This is something that we can’t afford to happen, if you like, in cities in the future.

The history of this car-focused, negative form of urban development goes back about a hundred years. It goes back to peole like Le Corbusier, the Swiss architect, who was very deliberately designing cities for the car – to move the car quickly across large distances from home to work and as he says in this quote here, to “consume oil and gasoline”. This was a very deliberate form of urban planning that was very much against that historic grain of the pedestrian-friendly, slow-moving street.

And Corbusier wasn’t the only person to think like this. In the United States, Clarence Perry developed the “Neighbourhood Plan” around the idea of faster roads around the outside and slower roads in the middle. And this seemed to make a lot of sense to people, that you should separate the car from the pedestrian. Yet the reality of cities has been that this has come at a cost. When you over-separate cars from pedestrians then unfortunately you don’t create the transaction opportunities that drive the economy of cities.

We’ve seen this happen in the New Towns programme of the UK where in this image here from Skelmersdale you can see a town built alongside those Neighbourhood Planning principles: lots of green space separating the housing; the idea being people are close to nature. And then the road system – if you can see some major roads going from top to bottom, left to right. Those roads connect those Neighbourhood Units. The reality socially of Skelmersdale is that people who could moved out as soon as possible. Many of these who had been encouraged to work here and live here chose to leave because they didn’t find the kind of life, the social conviviality, that they were hoping for. And this has been repeated in many New Towns in the UK that have performed below the economic average. Our good intentions, it would seem, have been unsuccessful in delivering places the more and more we have separated cars from people.

And then even at the detailed architectural level we have seen the same kind of separation going on of buildings turning their backs to the street. Here in the great city of Barcelona we see a modern development in which those public spaces in the middle are largely empty, the street is a negative place, the buildings present these stone surfaces to the street and there’s simply no life. And yet this is too often what too many architects and urban planners are continuing to provide, quite wrongly, because it doesn’t create the life that people seek.

Movement is the lifeblood of the city. It’s what makes cities tick and especially movement at this finer scale of the human. This is what we need to provide in Darwin in the future. Unfortunately very may people don’t understand how people move and this is something at Space Syntax that we have been addressing over the years to try to understand what people prefer naturally to do in cities. And one way that we do this is to observe as we’ve bee doing in Darwin: to watch people, count people and collect data on actual movements.

And we can imagine: what is the easiest route here between A and B? It’s a game we can all play. We could give you all a sheet in the room and ask you to trace routes and I’d be interested to see your responses. Do people, for example, follow the wiggly route through the middle? Or, on the other hand, do they take that simple route with the curve between A and B? Although it’s slightly longer, it’s simpler. Well, the answer is to go out and watch them and count them as we’ve been doing. And to produce drawings that lay one person’s route on top of another person’s route so that we’re not looking necessarily at individuals, we’re looking at the collective identity of the city with lots of data to make sure we’ve got some robust conclusions.

We make maps of movement using colours from hot red to cold blue to indicate the higher movement routes in red and the lower movement routes in blue.

We can do the same thing for vehicles and I’ll show you in a moment some images from here in Darwin where we’ve done exactly this.

And what we’ve found over the years is that in fact is people prefer – most people, most of the time – to take the simple route: the route on the right there. It would appear that the simpler we design connections for people, the more likely it is that they use them. And that’s not what I was taught and it’s not what many architects worldwide are taught. Many of us are taught that what happens on the left is correct: that people like the interesting route, the twist and the turn, the unexpected change of direction. In fact people seem not to prefer that.

And so in designing “Darwin of the future” we need to make sure that we’re designing simple connections; that as we grow the spatial system we grow it in simple ways.

Now there’s a way of measuring this that we’ve developed at Space Syntax; of measuring urban performance and to do this we need to, if you like, make the invisible visible. We need to analyse invisible space. We do this by taking the plan of the city that you can see here with all the space coloured in black and the buildings in white…

…and then reducing this to a network of routes that we’ve drawn here, drawing the longest and straightest routes that we can through the city. We then use a mathematical formula to analyse all possible journeys from every street segment to every other street segment and we ask a computer to do these journeys because there are so many of them. And we ask it to find the simplest routes, the routes involving the fewest changes of direction from origins to destinations. And then we calculate the degree to which any route is likely to be used as people move from everywhere to everywhere else.

And the routes that carry most movement we colour red; the routes that carry least movement we colour blue. So we have red, then orange, then yellow, then green then blue – the same colour scale I just showed you for the movement counts. And here in this particular city you can see a strong line of movement from left to right and that is the route that is most likely to be used by most people most of the time.

And it turns out that when we compare that computer analysis with the reality of observations we find that the computer in fact predicts the actual movement pattern to a very high degree. It seems that by measuring Spatial Accessibility we can robustly forecast the movement of people, both on foot and in vehicles; and this is the technique that we’re using in Darwin to measure the existing Spatial Accessibility of the city – and we will in future weeks and months be using the computer model to analyse different options for the city growing and how likely they are to perform to create busy streets where we want shops to work but also quiet streets that we want to be pleasant and tranquil for people, especially when they’re living there.

Now movement has an economic potential I mentioned earlier that we need to be aware of. In this image here from London, 80% of the shops – coloured red – are located on the 20% most spatially accessible streets. This is no coincidence. The stronger connections – the ones that carry most movement – are the ones where shops evolve over time. So when it comes to land use planning, when we are choosing what should go where, then the best, simplest way of doing this is to make sure that retail land uses – or any land use that requires high levels of natural movement – are located on those highly spatially accessible routes.

This is not what was done in the 20th century when shopping enclaves were created but it should be what we are doing in the 21st century to make sure that the city works in the most natural way possible.

We need to avoid crime and working with Steve Thorne – working with others over many years – we’ve identified the degree to which criminal and anti-social activity is also influenced by space. This image here is a housing area in Western Australia and in the areas that are most blue – ie most spatially disconnected – we find the highest levels of house break-ins. It seems that the house burglars understand space. They know that the streets where it’s easiest to break into are the ones where there’s least movement, least chance of being interrupted. So we need to be aware both of the economic opportunity but also the need to create places that are safe.

Every city’s different. Beijing is different in its spatial pattern…

…to Washington DC and we need to identify the particular spatial signature of Darwin. Once we’ve done this we can then say well what happens when we change the spatial layout of a place as I’m going to show you here in London.

Here’s an analysis of one part of London where, in the King’s Cross area, we have a large development site in which there’s a proposal to build new streets. The question is, if we add this network of new streets to the existing ones, are they going to be well used or not? What’ll happen to the existing streets? Will movement divert away from places that are already important? These are the kind of questions that we need to be asking in Darwin. How will Smith Street be affected by changes elsewhere in the city for example.

Well, we can use the model to test these proposals and as you can see in this case, when we run the analysis we find that these streets are not well connected at all. They are unlikely to carry high levels of vehicle movement or pedestrian movement through them. They’re not places that are going to work for shopping. And this is because the pattern of connections is wrong.

Let’s go back to the drawing board and start afresh. Let’s try a new pattern and in this case we’ve taken some streets that already point at the site and carried them through and connected them together.

And we find that once we analyse this proposal we get a very very different pattern of Spatial Accessibility with important consequences for the movement of people on foot and in vehicles and the likely performance of any retail uses that we would put in here. This is a much stronger, much better proposal.

Now Eime and I work with property developers day in and day out, using these techniques to make sure that real estate development is done as well as possible. And what real estate developers are looking for is a return on investment through increases in land value and rental income; and in this pair of images here we’re looking at two different versions for the same site: a connected design on the left and a disconnected design on the right. The value difference between these two proposals is in the hundreds of millions of pounds in Net Present Value. Over the lifetime of the development great gains will be made by following the design on the left and great losses will be made by following the design on the right. So the spatial system of the city is something which has this important economic component to it as well.

These techniques have been used in practice for many years now, helping to deliver projects like the Olympic Park in London for the Games last year…

…redesigning Trafalgar Square, the most important, principal public space in London and, arguably, the United Kingdom, where we worked to first of all understand how Trafalgar Square was working through observations.

We built a model to explain how the high levels of pedestrian movement went around the outsides of the space not through the middle because of the spatial system of Trafalgar Square. The easiest routes were around the outside. To walk through the middle of the square you needed to chop and change and wiggle your way through the fountains and up and down the steps. So that’s what people did: they took the outside route more than the inside.

We then worked with, in this case, Norman Foster the architect to design a new square and then to forecast, using the model, how that square was going to work in the future. And we were able to show that by putting a new staircase into the square we could influence a high level of pedestrian movement through there.

And that then helped to deliver the final project that has worked incredibly successfully since it was opened.

The stairs now are a place that people come to meet, to transact socially, economically: informing the culture and identity of this part of London and indeed the United Kingdom generally.

Elsewhere in the world, here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, we’ve been working to form a plan for the future of the city, working at a very large scale, looking at the entire city, designing new routes, new connections, new neighbourhoods for the city that connect within themselves but also connect back to the city at large. And working from the concept through to the detail of the individual street designs and using the techniques of Spatial Accessibility Assessment at all scales to develop the designs and then to inform the three-dimensional design of the city and the real estate valuation of these proposals – using that research I showed you earlier – to bring it into the design process.

But always – as you can see from this sketch of a highly shaded street in a very hot city – always using the techniques to focus on the final product being places for people to transact in.

And if we just zoom out and look at an overview of the city, as we will be in a couple of months from now in Darwin, we can look at the existing city with all of its movement focused on a motorway down the right-hand side of the city to the Former Plan that our analysis showed would not work – it would just make that motorway even more important, to the New Plan that we’ve helped to create in which we create many more boulevards and streets for people to walk in, a public transport network to run through, that creates an entirely new movement profile for the city with much different and better economic outcomes.

And so to reach the point where we can start planning the future of Darwin we need to create an evidence base and in the final few minutes of this presentation I’d like to turn directly to Darwin to show you the latest analysis which has emerged in recent weeks from Space Syntax’s analysis of Darwin’s spatial system.

We’ve been greatly assisted by colleagues in Darwin in providing excellent data on all sorts of aspects of the urban form of Darwin, seeing first in this image a map of building height in the city – building up, layer by layer, a physical description of the city and doing so in a way where we’re always asking, “how does the spatial system of the city, the pattern of space, the pattern of land use, the size of buildings, the character of streets – how does all of this influence the way that Darwin works: the places that people use on foot and in cars, the value of property?”

And so let’s go through some of these layers and start to pull the story together, the caveat being we’re in some ways in the very early stage of our analysis. We’ve recently, in fact only yesterday, put together the results of a pedestrian survey of the city and so my colleagues in the UK, Eime and colleagues in Darwin, have been crunching numbers almost overnight to get us to the point where we can present them to you today.

Next, let’s look at the layer of public transport. We can bring in the bus pattern, the bus routes in the Central Business District of Darwin. This analysis helps us understand how people will be moving from and to bus stops and adding to the everyday pedestrian movement in the city centre.

On top of that we have an analysis of the parking structure of Darwin’s CBD and the different rates that are applied to the different parking spaces throughout the city centre.

Next, the land use pattern throughout the city centre, with the retail uses marked in red here showing the cluster of retail around Smith Street and Knuckey Street, Cavenagh and Mitchell and the mix of uses as we move outside of that central retail zone.

The next image here is one that describes the urban design character of Darwin’s streets in terms of its active and inactive frontages. Think about what it’s like to walk past a building on a street. Sometimes it might be a pleasure to be able to look into the window of a shop, walk down a street where there are numerous doorways. But, alternatively, there are streets where you are walking past blank walls, inactive frontages, and this character has an effect on people. And we’ve found, through previous projects, that the degree to which buildings are designed to be active at ground level does indeed influence the degree to which people choose certain streets over others. Combine the layers – as the impact of urban design character, the impact of land use attraction, the impact of transport attraction, the location of car parks, the location of bus stops. Combine all of this together and perhaps we can start to see the impact in terms of Darwin’s land values – in this image here where we see the hotspot of higher values towards, again, that intersection of Smith and Knuckey and Mitchell and Cavenagh, towards the south and east of the Central Business District.

And¸ recently received, an image of Darwin’s pedestrian activity, coloured from busier streets in red, then orange and yellow, through to the quieter streets in green and then in blue. Again, we see the intensity of activity around the intersection of Smith and Knuckey and Mitchell and I hope you can see as we are the coming together of these land use and building and transport attraction factors in the ways in which people are using space.

And now let me turn to the spatial system of Darwin: an analysis of the spatial connectivity of Darwin’s street network. And this model, remember, is only reading the connectivity of the street network. It hasn’t yet had any of the data I’ve just shown you fed into it.

What it’s doing is saying, “how does the spatial layout, the spatial pattern of Darwin, works as a hierarchy from more connected to less connected?” And what I think’s very interesting is to notice how again we get this hotspot at Smith and Knuckey. The computer, knowing nothing about Darwin, about Darwin’s land use or pedestrian patterns, building heights or land values is predicting, if you like, something important in the geometry of that spatial system, is bringing out Knuckey and Smith as a key intersection and other streets: Cavanagh, Mitchell, the south and east of the city, are being analysed as highly important.

At this stage of our analysis, having just produced these data sets in a form where we can begin to link them together, I feel we have on our hands here a very good and strong description of the city, one that will help us to build the predictive model which we will use working with Steve Thorne, and the rest of the consultant design team, the client team and all of you in the room, to create ideas for Darwin’s future and then test those, in an evidence-based way, to forecast their likely impact and, in doing so, identify those options which we think can optimise the city centre of Darwin as a place that is friendly to different modes of transport, convivial to human life and create a culture and an economy of high value.

Finally, zooming out we can set Darwin’s Central Business District into the context of the wider city. And on this image I will close the presentation and hand back to the room and invite you to ask questions of my colleague, Eime and other members of the team, about how this spatial analysis can be used, with your input, to design the Darwin of the future.

Thank you very much for listening.”

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