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Space frontiers

Posted by Anthony Flint  April 25, 2011 11:57 PM

Is it possible to track human behavior -- movement patterns and purse snatching, shopping preferences and all kinds of other things, from property values to energy consumption -- within the confines of city spaces? Tim Stonor, founder of Space Syntax, thinks so. He founded the urban planning software company some 15 years ago, inspired in part by the work of Bill Hillier, whose landmark book “The Social Logic of Space” codified spatial layouts and urban movement. City neighborhoods from London to Beijing are thought to have their own unique deep structure and spatial signature.
city hall plaza.jpg
The analysis of how human beings actually navigate urban places will comes in handy for the task of retrofitting the spaces that don't quite work right. Case in point: City Hall Plaza, where Stonor is consulting alongside Utile Inc. on a redesign. The consensus is the plaza feels barren because it lacks active edges. But planners need to be sure they don't create anything new that could also work against the best use of the space. Stonor, a Loeb Fellow who spoke at the Lincoln Institute recently, plans to draw on experience in analyzing Trafalgar Square in London, where a set of stairs and blocked entry points interfered with natural desire lines. The redesign has prompted a new life for the area, beyond the pigeons and the tourists snapping pictures.
Because he believes it will help integrate disciplines -- from urban economics and town planning, to criminology and landscape architecture -- the planning software will soon be freely available as open-source -- “free, resilient, with multiple options, open – not unlike a city,” he said. Linking in Google Maps and GIS, satellite and Census data, the use of such software could create legions of educated stakeholders and citizen planners armed with mobile devices, he said, from New York City to the slums of Mumbai.

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About the author

Anthony Flint is a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a think tank in Cambridge, Mass. and author of Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on More »

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