Improved connectivity leads to better cities and more profitable buildings, and data can play a crucial role in analyzing that connectivity and planning to maximize it. Speaking at the ULI Asia Pacific Leadership Convivium in Singapore, Tim Stonor, managing director of Space Syntax, a London-based urban planning and design company, describing how his company uses data to analyze human behavior patterns and applies the resulting insights to urban spaces.
Stonor also serves as a visiting professor at The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, and is a former Harvard Loeb Fellow.
Space Syntax builds algorithms and models that measure the connectivity of street networks. The company’s models analyze pedestrian, cycle, and vehicle movement networks; its algorithm identifies the most-connected and the least-connected streets.
“The more connected the street, the more people flow down it. Not just in Shanghai but also in London, in every town and city we’ve ever looked at. [That] one variable influences 60 to 70 percent of what then happens,” he said. For example, in London, 80 percent of the city’s shops are located on the 20 percent most spatially connected streets.
The percentages might vary from city to city, but “this is a rule of nature we find again and again,” he said. “No matter how good you are, you can’t drag people to you. You’ve got to go to the people. The people go to the connectivity, so build connected places.”
“This model doesn’t take account of what the buildings are,” Stonor added. “It doesn’t take account of how tall they are, what they look like, the quality of their management—all of these things matter. However, the connectivity of the street grid seems to matter most.”
Data analysis is “increasingly entering the field of architecture and urban planning,” said Stonor. “Place really matters because it is in places where people come together and do lots of very basic things which drive innovation. The city offers the greatest density of opportunities for people to trade socially and economically.”
Data analysis demonstrates that connectivity affects value. Linking footfall to the value of existing real estate enables developers to see the potential difference in value of the lifetime of a project that being better connected creates.
Space Syntax’s analysis also suggests a link between connectivity and health. “Healthier people live in the more-connected places, certainly from the work we’ve done so far in England,” said Stonor. “Knowing this, we can work with public health professionals. The more disconnected and car dependent you are, the more likely you are to be lonely with enormous consequences for public health budgets: prescribing tranquilizers and pick-me-ups to people who are depressed because of the results of planning.”
He would like to see cities working to increase or restore connectivity that has been lost because of highways dividing parts of the city. “We are now fragmenting and dividing our cities where once they used to be connected and integrated,” he said.
“If I could do one thing quickly, I would slow the traffic down in every city and make it easier to cross the street.”
Stonor also outlined a few Space Syntax projects, including a new central business district master plan for Darwin, Australia. Here, the company could demonstrate that a master plan that focused on connectivity would add value, “connecting design with the money.”
On a smaller scale, the company has worked with owners of shopping malls to show how increasing connectivity within the malls and between the malls and the city can add value. “Getting inside shopping centers, making very small changes to the performance of a shopping center, you can open up sight lines, open up visibility, open up flow to make the place trade better.”
In the future, using data in planning will lead to new business models and require architects, the public sector, data scientists, and investors to work together to create the best places.
“The adoption of digital technologies will change the face of cities as surely as any previous technology, whether the railway, the car, or the skyscraper,” he concluded.