Tag Archives: Space Syntax

Emergent Urbanism at the University of Montreal

I was invited to the complex systems laboratory of the Université de Montréal this week to present emergent urbanism to their twenty-member large research group. Click through to SlideShare in order to see the full text of the presentation under the “notes on” tab. The entire text is in French, however I know a significant share of this website’s visitors enjoy French once in a while.



If someone wants to sponsor me for a translation in English, email me and I’ll upload one very soon. Otherwise my hands are quite full at the moment, it might be a while before I get around to it.

Thanks to Rodolphe Gonzales from the Complex Systems Lab for the invitation. You can read about their work here.

The Fundamentals of Urban Complexity

This is part II in an ongoing series of excerpts of an article set to be published this summer in The International Journal of Architectural Research, tentatively titled The Principles of Emergent Urbanism. Click here for part I, The Journey to Emergence.

The qualities of an emergent city

The adoption of mass-production processes, or development, in substitution for spontaneous urban growth in the mid-20th century created for the first time a phenomenon of alienation between the inhabitants and their environment. While the physical features of spontaneous cities could be traced to complex histories of families, businesses, and organizations, the physical features of planned cities owe their origin only to the act of planning and speculation. This has severe consequences towards the sustainability of place as there will not grow any particular attachment by the residents, their presence there being only a temporary economic necessity and not the outcome of their life’s growth. Mass-production of the environment left people as nothing more than consumers of cities where they used to be their creators. A building culture was replaced with a development industry, leaving the landscape culture-less and with no particular sense of identity. This took place despite the evidence that a building which has a unique history and has been fitted to someone’s life, as opposed to speculatively produced, generates market value for that property. (Alexander, 1975) This is why, although the demolition of so-called “slums” to replace them with modern housing projects created a great deal of opposition against urban renewal programs, the demolition of the housing projects later on did not lead to a popular preservationist opposition. They were not the physical expression of any culture.

In additional to cultural patterns, spontaneous settlements also have a peculiar morphology that has not successfully been imitated by modern growth processes. Spontaneous settlement processes give individuals full freedom to determine the boundaries of their properties. Spontaneous settlement is one where total randomness in building configuration is allowed, with no pre-determined property lines acting as artificial boundaries. Buildings and building lots as such acquire general configurations comparable to cell structure in living tissues, unique sizes and boundaries that are purely adapted to the context in which they were defined. In the absence of abstract property boundaries, property rights are bounded by real physical limits such as a neighbor’s wall. (Hakim, 2007)

Very attractive spontaneous cities have a specific pattern of the urban tissue. It consists of similar vernacular buildings that appear very simple when considered individually, but produce a visually fascinating landscape when considered as a whole. This is a form of fractal geometry. In mathematics a fractal is a geometric object of infinite scale that is defined recursively, as an equation or computation that feeds back on itself. For example the Sierpinski triangle is defined by three triangles taking the place of one triangle as in figure 4.

Sierpinski_triangle_evolution

Figure 4. A triangle triggers a feedback function that produces three triangles, which themselves trigger the feedback function to produce nine triangles, and so on. This process can unfold as long as computational resources can be invested to increase the complexity of the object.

The Mandelbrot Set is a much more interesting fractal that is defined as a simple recursive mathematical equation, yet requires a computation to visualize in its full complexity. When computing how many cycles of feedback it takes for the equation to escape to infinity for specific coordinates, figure 5 is the outcome.

Mandelbrotset

Figure 5. The image on the right is a deeper magnification of the image on the left, produced with a narrower range of coordinates as the input of the Mandelbrot set’s feedback function.

In addition to its remarkable similarity to natural phenomena, this form of geometric order informs us of a very important law in geometry: a feedback loop that is fed through the same function will produce an ordered but unpredictable geometric pattern out of any random input.

This tells us why cities of vernacular buildings have such appealing geometric properties at the large scale, despite being often shabby and improvised at the scale of individual buildings. Shanties made of scrap metal and tarp look rough at the scale of the material, but because multiple shanties share the construction process and originate from similar feedback conditions they form an ordered geometric pattern with its specific “texture”. The same process takes place at other scales of feedback, for example the production of a door. Whether the input for one door is larger, taller, wider than another door, if the same production process is employed the two doors will contribute to the overall fractal order of the urban space. This law has been employed not only in traditional and spontaneous cities, but also for modern urban planning initiatives. In the New York City neighborhood of Times Square the structure of billboard advertisements is defined by a building code that determines their configuration in relation to the configuration of the building. The outcome is a unique tissue of advertisement billboards that has become more characteristic of the neighborhood than the buildings themselves, which are not produced by a shared feedback function.

Fundamentals of urban complexity

Christopher Alexander showed in A City is not a Tree (Alexander, 1965) that social and economic networks formed complex semi-lattice patterns, but that people who observed them limited their descriptions to a simple mathematical tree of segregated parts and sub-parts, eliminating connections in the process. (Figure 6 compares the structure of a tree and semi-lattice.) In attempting to plan for urban structure, a single human mind, without a supporting computational process, falls back on tree structures to maintain conceptual control of the plan, thus computing below spontaneous urban complexity, a phenomenon that is consistent with Wolfram’s theory of computational irreducibility of complex systems. (Computational irreducibility states that the only accurate description of a complex system is the system itself and that no abstraction or reduction to a simpler process is possible.) Nikos A. Salingaros later detailed the laws of urban networks in Theory of the Urban Web. (Salingaros, 1998) Network connections form between nodes that are complementary, and therefore the complexity of networks depends on an increasing diversity of nodes. Salingaros describes the urban web as a system that is perpetually moving and growing, and in order to do this the urban tissue has to grow and move with it. Consider for example the smallest social network, the family. Debate over accessory units or “granny flats” has intensified as normal aging has forced the elderly out of their neighborhoods and into retirement complexes, while at the other end of the network young adults entering higher education or the labor market vanish from a subdivision, leaving a large homogeneous group of empty-nesters occupying what was once an area full of children, and often forcing school closures (a clear expression of unsustainability).

treelattice

Figure 6. A comparison of a tree pattern on the left and a semi-lattice pattern on the right. The tree structure is made of groups and sub-groups that can be manipulated separately from others. The semi-lattice pattern is purely random without distinct sub-parts.

These social networks grow more complex with increasing building density, but a forced increased in density does not force social networks to grow more complex. For instance the spontaneous settlements of slums in the developing world show remarkable resilience that authorities have had difficulty acknowledging. Because of squalid living conditions authorities have conducted campaigns to trade property in the slum for modern apartments with adequate sanitary conditions. To the authorities’ befuddlement some of the residents later returned to live in the slum in order to once again enjoy the rich social networks that had not factored in the design of the modern apartments and neighborhoods, demonstrating that the modern neighborhoods were less socially sustainable than the slums.

In commercial networks, space syntax research (Hillier, 1996), using a method for ranking nodes of semi-lattice networks, has shown that shops spontaneously organize around the multiple scales of centrality of the urban grid at its whole, creating not only commercial centers but a hierarchy of commercial centers that starts with sporadic local shops along neighborhood centers and goes all the way to a central business district located in the global center of the spatial network. The distribution of shops is therefore a probabilistic function of centrality in the urban grid. Because the information necessary to know one’s place in the hierarchy of large urban grids exceeds what is available at the design stage, and because any act of extension or transformation of the grid changes the optimal paths between any two random points of the city, it is only possible to create a distribution of use through a feedback process that begins with the grid’s real traffic and unfolds in time.

The built equilibrium

Although they may appear to be random, new buildings and developments do not arise randomly. They are programmed when the individuals who inhabit a particular place determine that the current building set no longer provides an acceptable solution to environmental conditions, some resulting from external events but some being the outcome of the process of urban growth itself. It is these contextual conditions that fluctuate randomly and throw the equilibrium of the building set out of balance. In order to restore this equilibrium there will be movement of the urban tissue by the addition or subtraction of a building or other structure. In this way an urban tissue is a system that fluctuates chaotically, but it does so in response to random events in order to restore its equilibrium.

This explains why spontaneous cities achieve a natural, “organic” morphology that art historians have had so much difficulty to describe. Every step in the movement of a spontaneous city is a local adaptation in space and time that is proportional to the length of the feedback loops and the scale of the disequilibrium. For spontaneous cities in societies that experience little change the feedback loops are short and the scale of disequilibrium small, and so the urban tissue will grow by adding sometimes as little as one room at a time to a building. Societies experiencing rapid change will produce very large additions to the urban tissue. For example, the skyscraper index correlates the construction of very tall buildings with economic boom-times, and their completion with economic busts. The physical presence of a skyscraper is thus the representation of a major disequilibrium that had to be resolved. (Thornton, 2005) The morphology of this change is fractal in a similar way that the movement of a stock market is, a pattern that Mandelbrot has studied. In general we can describe the property of a city to adapt to change as a form of time-complexity, where the problems to be solved by the system at one point in time are different from those to be solved at a later point in time. The shorter the time-span between urban tissue transformations, meaning the shorter the feedback loops of urban growth, the closer to equilibrium the urban tissue will be at any particular point in time.

Modern urban plans do not include a dimension of time, and so cannot enable the creation of new networks either internally or externally. They determine an end-state whose objective is to restore a built equilibrium through a large, often highly speculative single effort. They accomplish this by creating a large-scale node on existing networks. In order for such a plan to be attempted the state of disequilibrium in the built environment must have grown large enough to justify the immense expense of the new plan. This is why development will concentrate very large numbers of the same building program in one place, whether it is a cluster of 1000 identical single-family homes or a regional shopping mall, just like the skyscraper concentrates multiple identical floors in one place. Demand for these buildings has become so urgent that they can find a buyer despite the absence of local networks, the standardized building plan, or the monotonous setting. This is not as problematic for large cities for which a single subdivision is only a small share of the total urban fabric, but for smaller towns the same project can double the size of the urban fabric and overshoot the built equilibrium into an opposite and severe disequilibrium.

The mixed-used real estate development has attempted to recreate the sustainable features of the spontaneous city by imitating the morphology of sustainable local economic networks. It has not reintroduced the time dimension in economic network growth. Often this has resulted in a commercial sector that serves not the local neighborhood but the larger region first, consistent with the commercial sector being a product of large-scale economic network disequilibrium. In other developments the commercial sectors have struggled and been kept alive through subsidies from residential development, which is evidence of its unsustainability as part of the system.

References

Alexander, Christopher (1965). ‘A City is not a Tree’, Architectural Forum, vol. 122 no. 2
Alexander, Christopher (1975). The Oregon Experiment, Oxford University Press, USA
Hakim, Besim (2007). ‘Revitalizing Historic Towns and Heritage Districts,’ International Journal of Architectural Research, vol. 1 issue 3
Hillier, Bill (1996). Space is the Machine, Cambridge University Press, UK
Salingaros, Nikos (1998). ‘Theory of the Urban Web’, Journal of Urban Design, vol. 3
Thornton, Mark (2005). ‘Skyscrapers and Business Cycles,’ Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, vol. 8 no. 1
Wolfram, Stephen (2002). A New Kind of Science, Wolfram Media, USA

The complex grid

In a medieval-era city the pace of urban growth is slow to a point where the growth of the city is not consciously noticed. Buildings are added sporadically, in random shape and order, as the extremely scarce economic situation makes no other pattern possible. Typically this means that the shape of streets will match the existing natural paths of movement, giving the street network an organic structure that is preserved through successive transformations in the urban fabric.

This works until the street network becomes large enough to become a functional problem. Because it is random, the medieval street network becomes complicated to move around in once the structure exceeds a certain scale. Some people see this as an obstacle to commerce and project to restructure the emergent medieval grid into something more rational. These projects fail for the same economic reasons that shaped the emergence of the medieval streets.

As the pace of urban growth increases and as the cartesian paradigm expands in the 17th and 18th centuries, deliberate city planning through the pre-emptive definition of an urban grid becomes fashionable. The practice of baroque planning remains the privilege of ultra-rich landlords considering the scale of construction involved. (Louis XIV’s Versailles is still the case study.) In the Americas such concentrations of capital do not yet exist. Grids are not truly part of a city plan, they are the outcome of regulations meant to avoid the pitfalls of medieval urban growth. Although the idea of a block is defined, the limiting shape of the grid itself is undefined. This allows cities to grow out, in theory, infinitely.

This works until the grid encounters and existing structure in the landscape. While Europe’s land is already very complex, in America the land is mostly empty. One exception is New York, which has multiple grids expanding towards the center of Manhattan, all with their own alignment with the waterfront. Compounding the medieval streets below Wall Street, the city’s network is getting messy. The solution conceived is the first city plan of New York, the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which grids Manhattan in the pattern it is famous for to this day with the help of a concentrated political power. In Europe this much centralization is not available, cities being ringed by a large number of villages that already structure the land. One notable exception is Barcelona, which under conservative military domination had reserved a large non aedificandi zone outside of its defensive walls. With the military out of the picture, and the industrial revolution putting enormous pressure on the city’s growth, the next most famous cartesian grid plan is imposed: the eixample. Adepts of the medieval city such as Camillo Sitte praise its artistic value and quality of life, but fail to truly describe how to reproduce it in the context of accelerating urbanization.

The 19th century is the triumph of the cartesian plan. It is not only employed to plan cities but to plan the entire American landscape. West of the original colonies the map becomes rectilinear. The flexibility and fluidity of New York’s grid plan promotes very rapid land development and the city achieves growth rates never before seen. European city planners are facing the same growth pressure but are trapped by the land’s existing structure, both physical and political. One simple solution is discovered: demolishing city walls and building a high capacity road that encircles the city, the boulevard. If it is to be complicated to get inside a city, it will at least be simple to get around it. Paris builds two on its two successive walls, and Vienna builds the famous Ringstrasse. An interesting phenomenon emerges from subsequent growth. While the boulevards were meant to be restful promenades, they emerge to become important centers on their own due to their attractiveness for traffic. In space syntax terms, they are integrators.

Manhattan’s grid extends to over a hundred streets but starts to suffer from severe scale problems. The medieval street system drives traffic away to boulevards, but in an endless grid traffic goes everywhere, and there is no place that is free of the increasing congestion. With the introduction of the car the endless grid is in crisis. Since no better idea is found, the grid system is replaced with the high-capacity collector road to concentrate all the congestion, from which huge, isolated developments  access each other. This is the suburban sprawl system that remains the norm. It has the advantages of being simple to plan and giving enormous clout to land developers. However people are dissatisfied with the enormous scale of their environment. That they enjoy a single-family home does not sufficiently conceal the fact that they are clustered with thousands of similar homes, and next to those are huge strip malls, office parks and shopping malls that require long vehicle trips to access. The disconnect between their homes and their activities means they live in a form of crowded isolation. The suburbanites escaped congestion only to arrive at emptiness. There is more life in the less populated countryside. Adepts of the metropolitan grid such as Rem Koolhaas praise the culture of congestion as a lifestyle that the collector road fails to create.

This was as briefly stated as I could the modern history of the urban network: one system failing to adapt to the scale of the city, being replaced by a larger system that erases the small scale complexity of the previous only to itself fail at a much larger scale, and then another larger system crushing all complexity to resolve a problem of modernity.

Is there a way that we could have the benefits of all systems balanced as a whole urban network? To describe such a system, we can first define some proscriptions.

  • Any size of urban growth is allowed as long as the new growth extends the boundary of the network. This ensures that the city has the economic flexibility of the medieval city and allows anyone, no matter their economic importance, to contribute to the city’s growth.
  • The network must not become so complicated that it becomes impossible to move around in order to participate in large-scale activities and a culture of congestion.
  • Streets must not grow too long without interruption in such a way that speeding and traffic accidents are encouraged.

How does this work out in terms of prescriptions? It turns out to be very simple. If we assume that we start with a hamlet of a single block, or a regional road that is undeveloped, we need only two rules: one for private development and one for the community.

  • For private development: you may build on any available part of the network so long as you replace the part you used up by extending the network around your new block.
  • For community development: any time a part of the network becomes too complicated (for example it takes more than 4 steps to get out of a sector), extend the boundary of that part with a higher capacity road (a boulevard).

How do we tell if these two rules really do meet the proscriptions we defined? Since we’re talking about an emergent design, the only way to see how it works is to do an explicit simulation of the computations involved. For this I employed a Fibonacci sequence to stand for a random growth process. With each new block that the sequence generated, I placed it in the section of the network that minimized the private cost of extending the boundary. I also used square blocks to simplify the computations involved, and also to demonstrate how such a process would work in a structure of land that has been made square, for better of worse, through cartesian planning. The process would work just as well in a more fluid, rounder land structure such as exists in Europe and the American East.

Stage 1: The village

complex-grid-village

The village is a cluster of houses and small businesses, whose only real challenge is maintaining a facade with the outside by ensuring that every new block also fronts the countryside. This provides the village with a path that everyone can walk around on whenever they want to get some fresh air and open space.

Stage 2: The town

complex-grid-town

The town starts to support development at larger scales with bigger block sizes. The first boulevards are built around the original village, preserving its traditional atmosphere from the growing businesses on the new boulevards.

Stage 3: The city

complex-grid-city

Now a significant regional center, the city’s economic complexity is heralded by the construction of the ring road enclosing the town’s neighborhoods. Large developments such as a regional shopping mall, an airport and a TND line the ring road alongside other smaller blocks of more traditional housing and business that take advantage of the high centrality of the ring and its new culture of congestion, eventually forming whole neighborhoods of their own. The ring road also encloses available green spaces for recreation, making it a parkway in some segments.

Emergent properties of the process

The most interesting outcome is that the structure of the network makes a very nice chaotic fractal, showing the balance between scales in the city’s growth. It is simultaneously simple to grasp and complex, living geometry.

complex-grid-fractal

The spatial integration created by the boulevards and ring roads also promotes the creation of a hierarchy of different centers that are evenly distributed between neighborhoods. Tightly knit residential quarters provide security for children and the elderly, with neighborhood centers within walking distance and no threat of heavy traffic until the edge of the city, liberating citizens from automobile dependency.

Adopting a complex grid is going to benefit small towns and villages most, as their economy is typically not large enough to support the collector road system. It might even result in the emergence of new villages in rural regions that have experienced large-scale urbanization and thus make them more resilient to economic shocks.

For existing cities, history provides a precedent for increasing the grid’s complexity when the problem is scaling up the grid. The urban renovations of Haussmann in Paris or Robert Moses in New York showed how to compose a larger scale within an existing city. (In Moses’ case, how not to do so as well.) However there is no precedent for scaling down a network that is too big, which is what modern cities suffer from. I suspect that contrary to scaling up which requires a strong centralization of power, scaling down involves a decentralization and a multiplicity of new powers transforming neighborhoods, breaking up regional, municipal and even neighborhood authorities such as homeowners’ associations to create local economies.

The movement economies

Bill Hillier of Space Syntax is, along with Christopher Alexander and Michael Batty, part of the British old school of urban complexity researchers. (Hillier has joked that he would have used the term “Pattern Language” instead of Space Syntax had Alexander not used it first.) He has studied the functional impact of spatial relationships on human behavior over a career spanning several decades, and came upon some very insightful results. The synthesis of his career was published last year in the book Space is the Machine, which you can read here.

Hillier presents a theory of urban emergence founded upon two ideas. First, that circulation in a city is determined by the configuration of lines into a global hierarchy of depth, which he calls integration. Second, that activities in the city adapt to take maximum advantage of this movement, a phenomenon he calls a “movement economy.”

How did he draw this conclusion? By observing that integration of lines could predict where all the major shopping streets in London are.

Which then is primary? Let us argue this through the spatial distribution of retail, the commonest non-residential land use. We may already have been suspected of having confused the effects of spatial configuration on movement with the effect of shops. Are not the shops the main attractors of movement? And do they not lie on the main integrators? This is of course true. But it does not undermine what is being said about the structure of the grid as the prime determinant of movement. On the contrary it makes the argument far more powerful. Both the shops and the people are found on main integrators, but the question is: why are the shops there? The presence of shops can attract people but they cannot change the integration value of a line, since this is purely a spatial measure of the position of the line in the grid. It can only be that the shops were selectively located on integrating lines, and this must be because they are the lines which naturally carry the most movement. So, far from explaining away the relation between grid structure and movement by pointing to the shops, we have explained the location
of the shops by pointing to the relation between grid and movement.
(SITM 125)

Once it has been demonstrated that it is the global network structure that determines where most of the movement will go, not any particular destination, then what remains to do is to exploit this movement. This is the movement economy. It is, in one sense or another, behind every act of urbanism, operating at every scale.

Every trip in an urban system has three elements: an origin, a destination, and the series of spaces that are passed through on the way from one to the other. We can think of passage through these spaces as the by-product of going from a to b. We already know that this byproduct, when taken at the aggregate level, is determined by the structure of the grid, even if the location of all the a’s and b’s is not.

Location in the grid therefore has a crucial effect. It either increases or diminishes the degree to which movement by-product is available as potential contact. As we saw in the coloured-up maps, this applies not only to individual lines, but to the groups of lines that make up local areas. Thus there will be more integrating and less integrating areas, depending on how the internal structure of the area is married into the larger-scale structure of the grid, and this will mean also areas with more by-product and areas with less.

Now if cities are, as they were always said to be, ‘mechanisms for generating contact’, then this means that some locations have more potential than others because they have more by-product and this will depend on the structure of the grid and how they relate to it. Such locations will therefore tend to have higher densities of development to take advantage of this, and higher densities will in turn have a multiplier effect. This will in turn attract new buildings and uses, to take advantage of the multiplier effect. It is this positive feedback loop built on a foundation of the relation between the grid structure and movement this gives rise to the urban buzz, which we prefer to be romantic or mystical about, but which arises from the co-incidence in certain locations of large numbers of different activities involving people going about their business in different ways. (SITM 126)

From this knowledge, we can arrive at a paradigmatic definition of urbanity. A space can be considered urban if it makes maximum economy of the movement that passes through it. A city, at any scale, will be qualified as a good city if the experience of movement is not felt as a burden but as an opportunity and pleasure.

A visitor from Canada once remarked to me that he had walked from the Eiffel tower to the Pantheon, a trip of more than 4 kilometers, without feeling the distance. This is something he could never have done back home, where inevitably one would run into long stretches of mind-numbing repetition or parking lots. Paris, on the other hand, offered him a path through the city that was rewarding his presence. Certainly the excellent late 19th-century residential architecture plays a role in creating a basic comfort level, but architecture alone does not distract for such a long distance.

Paris is known as a city of highly sophisticated urbanity, and this is attributable to the efficient movement economy that was seeded there during the Haussmannian period. The most integrated lines, the typical boulevards and avenues, have been constructed in such a way that they make maximum use of residual movement. And what may be most surprising, a revelation that the occasional tourist will miss out on, is that the least integrated lines, the common residential streets, are generally quite boring, bordering on unpleasant. They are rarely seen by anyone except their residents due to their spatial segregation. It is safe to say, then, that the “real” Paris, what makes the city worth visiting, are its highly integrated spaces.

How do these spaces realize movement economies? Firstly they provide multiple scales of movement as well as the interfaces between those scales of movement. The grand avenues centered on the Arc de Triomphe are in fact three different scales of movement: promenade, street and highway, connecting into each other. While someone crossing the city in an automobile would be exposed to all the activity taking place on the promenades, he could decide to pull over into the street section, curb-separated from the highway section, and park his car in an available spot, then walk to his chosen destination. While walking there, he encounters shops he could stop in if it occurred to him to make a purchase. Restaurants and fast-food outlets provide him with a convenient option for dining. On the street side, news kiosks offer him information and headlines. All of this benefits him and occupies his mind at no cost as he was already taking this path for other reasons.

While he is walking to his destination, people are sitting in sidewalk terraces drinking beer and coffee, watching him walk by. They are also taking advantage of movement. William H. Whyte, author of the classic The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, observed that the primary activity that takes place in plazas is people-watching, people moving through that is. On the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the most trafficked in the city, restaurants have outdoor dining rooms right between the highway and the pedestrian flow. They are highly prized, despite the noise and wind, because people enjoy watching the movement.

Since Alphand, the city of Paris has split promenades into three strips. The center strip is the open space through which pedestrians walk. The street-side strip is for street furniture such as kiosks, public washrooms, benches, bus stops, and so on. The building-side strip is for “concessionaires”, retailers and restaurants renting a part of the street to open their space to the exterior. The formula for a good promenade is that simple.

Needless to say, it takes quite a lot of movement to support so many mutually-dependent activities. But high-end avenues are not the only spaces that can take advantage of movement economies. Urban movement is fractal (it occurs at all scales). Hillier found that placing a limit on the range of movement, one obtained a local integration map that was different than the global integration map, and the movement in this locally integrated space was qualitatively different than global movement. These locally integrated paths develop local movement economies of their own. Typically, while highly integrated paths will become high-end shopping streets, locally integrated paths will be neighborhood service streets. Instead of trendy restaurants, fashion boutiques and cinemas, you find supermarkets, bakeries, post offices and cafes. And when we look at things with enough abstraction, we can see that even a shopping mall is a form of locally-integrated movement economy, where anchors terminate important axis and boutiques support each other by intercepting movement. Kiosks and cafes now take up even more space in the center of shopping mall promenades than they do in Parisian boulevards. It should be no surprise that people who live in suburban cities reflexively head to the mall for activity. Shopping malls, in the suburbs, have the most densely developed movement economies!

Besides creating commercial potential, movement economies also provide security. This is something that Jane Jacobs insisted on in Death and Life of Great American Cities through her concept of eyes on the street, but Hillier found an inverse statistical correlation between burglaries and spatial integration. What this brings us to is that there is a lower bound to urbanity, that we have defined as the realization of movement economies, where spaces lose integration and become segregated. If there is not enough movement, there is no purpose to public space. This is the point where public space becomes pathological, and where “defensible space” becomes necessary. Disastrous social housing projects have become the textbook case for failed public space, and their segregation explains their pathologies.

Parisian urbanism offers another excellent solution out of this problem. While the avenues are congested and noisy, full of life and activity, the lots are organized as courtyards from which several buildings are accessible. These courtyards are locked behind digitally-secured coach doors. It is rarely the case that one is invited to a dinner party without being given several “digicodes” to get through the secured, segregated spaces. Once in the courtyard, the noisy street becomes peaceful silence. These courtyards are functionally identical to the despised suburban cul-de-sac. But the cul-de-sac is not the problem, the streets they connect to are the problem. Paris balances two extremes, highly public, highly integrated space and completely private, gated space, side-by-side, supporting each other. Manhattan’s street-and-skyscraper urbanism is essentially the same, except that instead of going deep away from the street, one has to go up after entering segregated space.

New Urbanists in America and compact city advocates in Europe insist on having fully open grids, sometimes with alleys, instead of cul-de-sacs. There is nothing wrong with a cul-de-sac in itself; it is only a large residential building turned on its side. The important work is creating density in highly integrated lines. Arturo Soria y Mata invented the linear city in the 19th century as a utopia, but in reality, all cities are linear cities, functioning at fractal scales. The realization that the spatial integrity of the line is more important than anything that goes on behind the buildings occurred to me while taking a bus through the west Paris city of Nanterre, widely acknowledged to be a wasteland. The line the bus was taking was well composed, and I did not realize where I was until I caught a glimpse of wasteland Nanterre in a gap between two buildings. So far as anyone on that street was concerned, this didn’t affect them negatively. That is how resilient urban fabric can be.

Afterword

Local integration map of Central London

From Space is the Machine, global and local integration maps of Central London.

Self-organization of cities around natural movement is an important demonstration of complexity. Without anyone having willed or designed it that way, the aggregate actions of the millions of residents of London, all randomly travelling from one point to another of the network, resulted in the production of a fractal structure of the urban grid.

References

Bill Hillier. Space is the Machine
New Science. New Urbanism. New Architecture – Proceedings from a London conference, Katarxis.