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News story

Know your place movement and opportunity in the city

This month we interview Tim Stonor M.D of Space Syntax a firm of architects and town planners that specialises in the scientific analysis of pedestrian behaviour forecasting where people will walk, cycle and drive.  ‘Species follow patterns’ to quote Tim ‘we can forecast patterns of most people most of the time’.

Before the 20th Century towns and cities evolved on a smaller scale and slower pace over a longer period of time that enabled any change that didn’t work to be easily rectified. Post 20th Century is a different picture. Town planners and mega projects have made mistakes that are far more difficult to rectify. Housing estates, both in terms of planning and design, often went wrong with huge consequences both social and economic. New towns also had problems and often struggling on a social and economic platform.

The realisation that rigorous analytical analysis and some understanding of what people do, would help us not make similar mistakes, was the root of the Space Syntax research begun some 40 years ago.

Why had housing estates gone bad? Connectivity, space and human behaviour began to be analysed with a more mathematical approach speeded up by the introduction of computerised modelling.

Picked up by community groups as a useful technique the Space Syntax methods have been successfully used in planning appeals.

So how do humans behave in space? That’s not a David Bowie lyric, but the research and practice go hand in hand with business. Where we shop, choose to sit or converse in the public space has a cultural, social and economic dimension. Footfall creates the opportunity to trade. Human interaction and forming relationships, as well as trading goods, are what cities are about. Streets, pathways and channels are linkages that carry movement and connections and can determine the health and vitality of the city.

Tim loves the idea of restoring old cities, taking something a city had in its past and bringing the human link back: “restoring places to their future” as Tim describes it. He cites Trafalgar Square as a good example of this which was a traffic roundabout in the 1990s. Today it looks entirely different as it has been shaped to work in the 21 Century world.  “It is living with different modes of movement and changing our behaviour towards others which is enabling change. After all we may be a pedestrian one day and a cyclist another or a car driver, we overlap and mix it all up.”

So what’s Tim’s prediction for the future? Whatever the digital world may bring, Tim sees a bright future. The way we move will change and the opportunity of apps to make more information available, is an exciting concept. Revealing everything from where you are in history to where you can buy a pint of milk, makes the vast city appear smaller and more available and open to all.

Listen to the interview on Talking Walking -

Date added: 24 July 2013

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