This is an extract from a positioning paper I recently co-authored for Space Syntax around the future of the city. This post is an extract of the longer-term risks and opportunities.
The paper set out short- and long-term issues facing society, and suggested opportunities for technology to help address them.
Existing and emerging technologies provide potential solutions, but these need to be developed carefully to deliver a vision that everyone supports. Without going through this process and agreeing a social contract to operate them within, the risks have been widely publicised: a surveillance state, loss of privacy, loss of control and lives being ruled by multi-national tech giants.
This post sketches out a positive future supported by technology, where, in an older, post-work society, the city as an organisation plays a different role. In this future, tech provides a platform to stimulate local economic activity, provide access to services, develop new models of housing, protect privacy, and by integrating all of these, to attempt to address inequality.
There are lots of interesting things going on using data in cities at the moment. Many articles and blog posts talk about how data, and open data in particular, has the potential to deliver public services better, start to address long-term outcomes (such as health problems), and create a basis for decision-making. In times when public sector funding is under pressure delivering these outcomes is even more important than normal.
Collecting data in cities is helpful as it provides something to measure progress against. It means measuring specific outcomes, which also means being very precise about what outcomes are important.
It can also be a link between deciding a wider objective (improve air quality) and a specific implementable actions (make public transport free). However, to do this requires both domain and data expertise:
- to understand the difference between data on the outcomes of a system, and the variables in that system
- to measure and analyse the urban systems that form the variables
- to know how data is recorded on urban systems and what it actually represents Read More
The earlier post identified three negative impacts of filtered permeability:
- Filtered permeability breaks the street network and pushes traffic away from “residential streets” on to the surrounding roads which increases congestion, air pollution, and journey times.
- By describing these areas as “residential streets” it implies that no one lives anywhere else. Often the streets that traffic is filtered towards are actually high streets with higher densities and a wider mix of uses. There are consequently more people on them, and therefore more people exposed to increased traffic and air pollution.
- The streets where traffic has been restricted are already quiet, and experience further reductions in natural surveillance, reducing personal safety (and the perception of safety).
These points were made on the basis of street network analysis, and some further investigations in to the distribution of land use and density in and around de Beauvoir.
A further consideration in the earlier study is that the resulting distribution of traffic volumes (and air pollution) is socio-economically distorted: higher density, multi-dwelling, buildings are more exposed to traffic, while lower density houses are less exposed.
The drive for filtered permeability is to encourage cycling, and this is positive for many reasons. However, cities are complex systems that work across many scales simultaneously, and are formed from different layers of infrastructure, public transport, land use, density, and people, all of which need to be considered in an integrated way.
The last fifty years of urban planning, and specifically the dominance of traffic engineering, shows how negative outcomes for the whole city arise by working with one infrastructure system in isolation from the others. Despite the positive objective, the risk of using filtered permeability to try to deliver improved cycling infrastructure is that it will create unintended negative outcomes across the wider area.
Hackney council currently has a consultation running to extend a filtered permeability scheme further north into Stoke Newington. This post uses spatial network analysis to test the impact of these new proposals.