Open Source Public Transport Accessibility Modelling

The RGS-IBG annual conference has been on this week, and I presented as part of a series of geocomputation sessions arranged in advance of the 21st anniversary Geocomputation conference in Leeds next year. The topic was current CASA research from the RESOLUTION project, looking at developing fast and consistent methods of measuring public transport accessibility between different cities.

For this task I have been testing the OpenTripPlanner software with encouraging results. PDF of the slides are here.

The data used for the London analysis comes from the Traveline public transport timetable data. The image below shows an example accessibility measure of jobs accessible within 1 hour’s travel time leaving at 8am.

LondonResolution_PT_Accessibility

Tate Modern Switch House: a New Perspective on London

High rise developments are often exclusive private spaces, as attested by the current glut of luxury flats, hotels and offices rising across Inner London. Even recent developments advertising their public space credentials have come up short, with for example the Shard’s fantastic views costing £25 entry fee, or the Walkie-Talkie’s ‘skygarden’ amounting to an expensive restaurant and some pot plants.

It’s wonderfully refreshing therefore that London’s newest tower is dedicated to public space. Tate Modern’s Switch House extension includes free galleries, spaces for contemplation and discussion, and one of the most spectacular 360 degree viewing locations in London. It all adds up to a big improvement to what was already a very successful gallery.

The Switch House exterior sits right next to brightly coloured flats and office developments. Architects Herzog and de Meuron have opted for a bold angular form that holds its own in this contested space, while still complementing the original Bankside power station through the use of a brickwork lattice.

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The gallery floors are spacious, with the exhibits focusing less on blockbuster artists, and more on international voices, sculpture and performance. For example the Living Cities gallery features works from the Middle East and Africa. The winding nature of the tower staircases also creates many intimate and relaxing spaces, which contrasts nicely with the busier open galleries next to the turbine hall.

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The viewing gallery presents a superb panorama over the City, St Paul’s, East and South London. It’s an amazing perspective, and quite unique compared to other skyline views, particularly with Bankside tower looming just in front, and no glass barriers present. Thew view westwards is more obscured from developments around Blackfriars, but is still fascinating.

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Here’s how the the new tower links with the existing galleries in the internal plan. There’s even a bridge across the turbine hall. High-res versions of these photos are on flickr.

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What can the next mayor do to tackle London’s hazardous air pollution?

If news emerged that a virus was killing thousands of vulnerable Londoners every year then there would justifiably be public alarm, followed by swift political action. Yet the impacts of this imaginary scenario are similar to what air pollution has been inflicting on Londoners for many years, while the political response has been slow. According to the most up-to-date and comprehensive research, air pollution reduces Londoners’ life expectancy equivalent to the death of 9,400 people of average age every year (5,900 due to NO2 and 3,500 due to PM2.5) as well as exacerbating respiratory diseases in vulnerable populations. Despite the severity of these impacts, it has become standard practice over the last decade for national government and the London Mayor to gloss-over the problem, downplay continued breaches of European law, and for politicians to delay taking any significant responses.

The current London mayor, Boris Johnson, has been slow to face up to the challenge. His tenure began by removing the western extension to the Congestion Charging Zone, thus increasing vehicle numbers in Inner West London, and opting out of using the Congestion Charge to tax the most polluting vehicles. This would have boosted the adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles (still only a meagre 1% of new cars) and reduced heavy emitters in Central London. Furthermore Johnson has not succeeded in comprehensively upgrading London’s bus and taxi fleet to hybrid and electric vehicles, instead embarking on an expensive new Routemaster project which still produces substantial emissions and currently makes up a minority of the overwhelmingly diesel bus fleet.

NO2 Annual concentration in London 2010, modelled by the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory. All of Inner London and many major roads in Outer London greatly exceed the EU limit.
NO2 Annual concentration in London 2010, modelled by the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory. All of Inner London and many major roads in Outer London greatly exceed the EU limit.

As recently as 2014, Johnson was still playing down the air pollution problem, in the face of strong evidence of London’s busiest streets like Oxford Street having amongst the highest concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in the world. For much of his time as mayor, he has assumed that the issue is not a public priority, and that driver and transport demands trump health concerns. This approach looks more questionable by the day. Evidence continues to mount that air quality is comparable in its health impacts to passive smoking and obesity. The consequences of the current Volkswagen scandal are still emerging as the huge gap between the advertised environmental performance of diesel vehicles and what we are really breathing in our cities is revealed. And the full costs of poor air quality are only beginning to be counted (e.g. billions of pounds added to NHS bills).

Looking to the future, London must now tackle the air pollution problem with a new mayor in the upcoming 2016 elections. The scope for change looks positive, as the main candidates on both the left and right have been openly discussing the need for change. What then could a new mayor do to address air quality and improve the health of Londoners?

Pricing Out Polluting Vehicles with the Ultra Low Emission Zone
To be fair to Boris Johnson, he did finally respond to pressure and announce a significant air pollution policy in 2013, dubbed the ‘Ultra-Low Emissions Zone‘. The ULEZ is set to come into effect in 2020 and essentially uses the Congestion Charging infrastructure to tackle the most polluting vehicles (similar to what Livingstone proposed way back in 2006). The question is whether the ULEZ goes far enough. It’s based on Euro emission standards, which measure NO2 and PM10/2.5 as well as CO2 emissions. It correctly targets diesel vehicles, requiring them to meet the Euro 6 standard, which only came into force in September 2015, so almost all current diesels on the road would have to change or pay the charge. This means that the main source of NO2 emissions will be appropriately targeted.

The current Congestion Charge boundary will be the basis of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (map by TfL).
The current Congestion Charge boundary will be the basis of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (map by TfL).

There are limitations however. The charge is only going to be £11.50 (except for large buses and HGVs), so it likely many diesel users will continue to drive into Central London and pay the charge. Furthermore the ULEZ will only affect Central London; the rules on diesel taxis and private hire vehicles have not been decided; and ULEZ zone residents get an overly generous exemption until 2023.

The next mayor will have a number of options that could be pursued if they want to be bolder than Johnson’s ULEZ proposal. These include increasing the ULEZ charge and/or Congestion Charge, bringing the ULEZ implementation forward to an earlier date, and potentially reintroducing the Congestion Charge Western Extension. All of these would make significant improvements to air quality, but would be controversial with drivers, many of whom were mis-sold diesel vehicles in the past as a supposedly environmentally benign option. The mayor may also want to re-examine the wider Low Emission Zone (LEZ) that tackles very polluting vehicles entering the whole of Greater London, as this affects the entire city and has not changed since 2012.

Euston Road, one of London's busiest and most polluted routes with NO2 annual concentrations typically twice the EU limit (photo by D Smith).
Euston Road, one of London’s busiest and most polluted routes with NO2 annual concentrations typically twice the EU limit (photo by D Smith).

Banning Diesel?
A more radical approach currently being proposed for Paris is to ban diesel cars all together. This would certainly make a huge improvement to air quality. The problem for London would be that the city’s bus and taxi fleet would fail this restriction, and there would likely be a backlash from thousands of car and van drivers. This would be a very confrontational approach for a new mayor.

The more pragmatic solution for London would be to work with the ULEZ framework, considering stricter measures and higher charges, and implementing the policy earlier. One very important issue for the new mayor is emerging from the current Volkswagen emissions scandal. It looks like the latest Euro 6 diesels produce significantly higher NO2 emissions in real world driving conditions compared to the misleading testing conditions. If this is the case then the proposed ULEZ will be much less effective in improving air quality (as Euro 6 diesels will be exempt from the charge). The ULEZ may have to charge all diesel vehicles, regardless of their Euro rating. This decision would need to made very early, so that there is sufficient time for car users to adjust behaviours accordingly.

Pedestrianising Streets and Upgrading the Bus Fleet
Oxford Street is London’s busiest pedestrian street and has some of the worst NO2 pollution in Europe. A response that is gaining popularity is to pedestrianise the whole street. Certainly this would be an iconic change to both the image of London, and to the experience of the city for thousands of Londoners and tourists. The challenge for this measure is avoiding creating bus jams at either end of Oxford Street, and handling the extra demand levels that would be placed on the already congested Central Line. These challenges are not necessarily permanent however, as the arrival of Crossrail in 2018 (which follows the west to east Central Line route through Inner London) has been described as a ‘game changer’ that makes pedestrianising Oxford Street a realistic option. The new mayor should certainly pursue this possibility.

The wider challenge for the mayor is not to just think about Oxford Street, but to accelerate the upgrading of the entire bus and taxi fleet towards zero emission vehicles and develop wider pedestrianisation policies. This would improve air quality for all of London’s high streets. London is still at the trial stage of pure electric double-decker buses, which represents disappointingly slow progress considering how long we have known about air pollution problems. There’s been better progress on electric/hydrogen single-deckers. Considerable investment will be needed to upgrade the bus fleet, with decision-making based on real evidence and value-for-money. Johnson’s Routemaster project has failed both these criteria, and better leadership is now required.

Heathrow Third Runway
All the main candidates for the London Mayor oppose the expansion of Heathrow, with air pollution alongside noise pollution amongst the most important factors. You can see how Heathrow already dramatically increases emissions in West London in the NO2 annual concentration map at the top of this article using the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory data. This is due both to emissions for aircraft engines, and the thousands of cars driving to and from Heathrow everyday. The challenge will be how effectively the new mayor can challenge the UK government to reject the Heathrow expansion option.

Overall, the issue of air pollution has gained unprecedented prominence as we approach the 2016 mayoral elections. The main candidates need to respond accordingly in their manifesto commitments, with London having a lot of catching up to do after eight years of little change. It will be interesting to see which candidates are prepared to be bolder.

 

 

 

 

Understanding Household Energy Use in England & Wales

Household energy use is a key indicator for understanding urban sustainability and fuel poverty, and is a timely topic now that winter has arrived. The LuminoCity3D site maps domestic energy use in England and Wales at 1km2 scale using data from DECC. This map has also just been published as a featured graphic in Regional Studies Regional Science. The household energy use distribution is really fascinating, with large scale regional variation and fine scale intra-urban patterns identifiable-

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Average domestic energy use 2012, click to view interactive map

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The lowest energy use per-household is found in cities and towns in the South-West region such as Plymouth and Exeter, and also along the South coast. While the highest energy use per-household is found in commuter belt towns around London. The variation within city-regions is very high, with for example London and Manchester averages varying by up to a factor of 5, from a mere 8kWh to over 40kWh per year.

The main drivers of energy use are generally housing type (more exposed walls=more energy use; larger house=more energy use), household size, wealth and climate. Often these factors are correlated at household and neighbourhood levels- so for example wealthier households in England and Wales are more likely to live in large detached houses, and these households tend to be clustered together. These trends produce the high energy use pattern seen in London’s commuter belt, as well as in the wealthier suburbs of other large cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. South West England on the other hand benefits from the mildest climate in the UK, has a relatively high proportions of flats and generally lower average household sizes, thus resulting in the lowest energy use.

We can see how these factors play out for London in the map below. The height of the hexagons shows density, with higher density areas clearly using less energy. City centre households have considerably lower energy use, with a strong bias towards Inner East London where incomes are lower.

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London average domestic energy use 2012, click to view interactive map

Energy use areas correlate strongly with the most prevalent housing type map (also on the LuminoCity3D site), with flats and terraced housing the lowest energy users, and detached and semi-detached areas the highest.

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London most prevalent housing type 2011, click to view interactive map

The relationship with household size is less clear cut, but it can be seen that average household sizes are smaller in the city centre. On the other hand, areas with high average household sizes such as Stratford and Wembley, do not have particularly high average energy use.

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London average household size 2011, click to view interactive map

Overall domestic energy use patterns tend to mirror transport sustainability, in that higher density city centre areas perform more efficiently compared to low density suburbs. On the other hand the link to city size (which tends to be strong in transport sustainability relationships, with bigger cities reducing car use) is much weaker, and the most efficient locations are often small and medium sized towns and cities. It is not clear in this analysis whether more recent green policies (such as improved insulation or CHP schemes) are having much effect, but several cities with green reputations like Brighton and Bristol are amongst the best performing cities.

 

Is Developing the Greenbelt the Answer to London’s Housing Crisis?

Following rapid growth and a chronic lack of new development, housing affordability has reached crisis levels in London. Median house prices are at £300k (8 times median household income) while average prices have passed half a million. London is now amongst the most expensive cities in the world, a situation with severe consequences for economic competitiveness and for inequality. Rents continue to increase faster than wages, ownership is being restricted to affluent populations and the social housing waiting list now stands at 345,000 households, nearly double the figure from 15 years ago.

Recent development figures have been very low. London needs at least 50,000 new homes per year to meet demand, yet only 21,000 were built last financial year, and this figure has been below 20,000 for all of the last five years. Nationally around 200,000 houses a year are needed, and we are building around 100,000. These figures amount to a comprehensive failure of national and mayoral policy.

Clearly substantial changes are needed. Last week the Centre for Cities outlined how this change could happen, launching their ‘Building Change: Delivering Homes Where we Need Them‘ report. It convincingly argues that we are failing to deliver homes where demand in greatest- in the vicinity of rapidly growing towns and cities- resulting in spiralling housing costs.

The report makes a range of positive recommendations for enhancing local authority capacity in relation to delivering new housing, including the streamlining and reform of compulsory purchase orders for faster development and allowing cities to benefit from uplift values in land; allowing local authorities to borrow more with longer term commitments from central government; and enabling greater cooperation between local authorities to tackle city-region challenges. Best practice examples are provided from local authorities that have successfully delivered new housing, such as Bristol and Milton Keynes. The report also provides a useful summary on brownfield capacity, with for example the potential for 350,000 homes on brownfield sites within the GLA.

Releasing Greenbelt Land for Development
By far the most politically controversial aspect of the report is the recommendation to reconsider greenbelt development restrictions. Prioritising brownfield land has been a central foundation of compact city planning over the last twenty years, directing development towards inner city regeneration and away from rural areas. Yet brownfield land can be expensive to develop, and in combination with greenbelt restrictions, land prices have soared. These spiralling land costs have significantly curtailed new housing.

Opportunities for housing on ‘Usable Greenbelt Land’ around London are mapped in the report (figure below), based on locations within 2km of rail stations. The Centre for Cities estimate that there are opportunities for 430,000 housing units on greenbelt land within the GLA, and opportunities for a massive 3 million housing units on the London greenbelt beyond the GLA boundary. This huge housing capacity could effectively solve London and the South East’s housing crisis. So is developing on the greenbelt the answer?

Opportunities for new housing on London greenbelt land, Centre for Cities Delivering Change Report 2014.

Usable Land and the Value of the Greenbelt
The gigantic housing development capacity figures quoted in the Centre for Cities report certainly demand attention. As housing development is such a central issue for planning in the South East, I have decided to repeat the Centre for Cities spatial analysis from a sustainable urbanism perspective and assess how realistic these recommendations are, and what the environmental consequences of the greenbelt development approach are likely to be.

First of all, some details on the Centre for Cities methodology. Their Usable Land definition is a 2km crow-flies buffer of rail and underground stations, excluding several environmental protection area types (SSSIs, AONB, SAC, SPA, Ancient Woodlands). The report does not argue that all this land should be developed, rather that it could be considered for development on a case by case basis. They take a ballpark figure that, given infrastructure, services and removing highly amenable land, 60% of the remaining land could be developed for housing at an overall average of 40 dwellings per hectare (thus each hectare of usable land effectively translates to 24 homes). I have repeated this method below and I get a very similar result of 120,000 hectares / 2.87 million homes on London greenbelt land beyond the GLA boundary. I get a lower (but still substantial) figure of 12,700 hectares / 306,000 homes on greenbelt land within the GLA.

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There are two main spatial analysis issues with the Centre for Cities method of identifying usable land- firstly there are significant development restrictions missing, and secondly there are problems with using rail station buffers as a proxy for sustainable travel. Regarding the first problem, the most significant restrictions that should be included are flood risk areas, and additional environmental land and habitats (principally Priority Habitat Areas). The impact of these additional restrictions is shown in the map below. Surface water and flooding risk in particular covers large areas of land in the Thames Valley west of the GLA, and north in the Lee Valley, reflecting the role of the greenbelt in flood management. Assuming these areas would not be developed, this removes nearly 40% of the usable land from the analysis, leaving 75,000 hectares. With more data and time, further restrictions could be considered, for example local site access, road congestion, airport flight paths, heritage restrictions etc.

SouthEast_GreenbeltDev_Map2c

The second problem is how to consider public transport accessibility and sustainable travel. The basic principal used by Centre for Cities is sound- directing development to areas of public transport access. But locations within 2km of rail stations in the South East are often very small towns and villages, lacking local retail and services opportunities. Not surprisingly these small towns are generally highly car dependent, with around 80% of commuters driving to work, and similar patterns for other trip purposes. Building further low density housing in these locations would likely reproduce this pattern of car dependence.

Ideally the appropriate method here would be to do some accessibility modelling and network analysis (comparable to the PTAL approach used in the London Plan) to identify locations with access to local services and a range of public transport options. Unfortunately performing accessibility modelling for the whole of the South East is not trivial. The maps below shows a simpler alternative, identifying locations within an estimated local walk/bus trip of a retail and service centre (3km of a large centre, 2km of a medium centre or 1km of a small centre) based on 2010 Valuation Office data, in addition to the 2km buffer of rail stations. It is clear that a stricter definition of accessible locations greatly reduces the resulting volume of usable land, directing potential development to larger settlements with more facilities (and public transport services) like Southend, Maidstone and Hemel Hempstead. In this case it leaves 27,500 hectares of greenbelt land beyond the GLA, or 23% of the original figure. Note we also haven’t considered public transport capacity, which is a critical issue for commuters into London as many services are overcrowded.

This analysis points to the Centre for Cities figure of 3 million potential homes in the greenbelt being a big overestimate if sustainable planning guidance is going to be followed. Yet even with this stricter approach I still get a large figure of 27,500 hectares of potential development land in the greenbelt beyond the GLA, which would be about 650,000 homes at suburban densities or more at higher densities. This could go a long way to alleviating the housing crisis in the South East. The Centre for Cities report is convincing in its wider policy argument that land should be ‘evaluated on its merits’ rather than being fixed by blanket restrictions. Greenbelt development could play an important and perhaps even relatively sustainable role in addressing the housing crisis.

The question then is how any release of greenbelt land can be managed to prevent sprawl and retain the many environmental roles that the greenbelt embodies. There is also the problem of making the case to the public when the greenbelt has traditionally been a popular policy. And so we come back to the issue of local authorities cooperating to tackle regional challenges. A million commuters cross the GLA boundary every weekday, yet regional planning is almost non-existent. Any release of greenbelt land needs to be considered in its regional context and balanced against brownfield opportunities. The biggest housing opportunities are linked to new infrastructure (e.g. Crossrail both West and East of the GLA; the Varsity Line for Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge), again at the regional scale. Its hard to see how the housing crisis can be tackled without much greater regional cooperation and some form of regional planning for the South East.

London’s High Rise Debate

Last week New London Architecture, centre for built-environment debate and communication, launched a new exhibition on London high rises and high buildings policy. As well as including many spectacular models of present and future buildings, the exhibition presents results from NLA research into London’s current generation of high building proposals.  The most eye-catching finding is that there are over 230 towers of 20 storeys or more proposed or under construction in London, potentially resulting in a dramatic change in London’s urban environment. A high profile campaign has been launched by the Guardian and Architects’ Journal calling for for more discussion and a ‘Skyline Commission’ to assess the impacts of these many developments. The NLA exhibition itself takes a more neutral tone in the debate, and highlights are summarised below.

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NLA “London’s Growing Up” Exhibition, with Leadenhall Building Model

It’s clear from the NLA map below that the majority of proposals are strongly clustered spatially, with many adjacent to existing high rise districts of Canary Wharf and in the City around Bishopsgate and Liverpool Street. There are however many new clusters set to be created, principally Vauxhall-Nine Elms; Waterloo; Blackfriars Bridge; City Road (Islington); Aldgate; Stratford and North Greenwich. Demand for high rises is a result of acute pressures for more housing, and the prioritising of development at public transport nodes, such as Canary Wharf, Vauxhall and Blackfriars. In heritage terms a number of these clusters are controversial, particularly those along the South Bank that affect London’s river views, and those proposals in the vicinity of the world heritage sites of Westminster and the Tower of London.

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NLA Insight Study map of current high building proposals

The main critique from campaigners is that there is a lack of vision from planners regarding high buildings policy, and that current developments are being driven by schemes for luxury residential flats along the river that maximise developer profits. The map above lends support to this view, particularly along the South Bank and at Vauxhall. There are already many medium rise luxury flat developments along the Thames of often limited design quality, and its debatable whether the current batch of taller developments will be any better. Policy restrictions in London are strongly geared towards protecting views of St Pauls Cathedral, effectively preventing new schemes in West Central London. Protection elsewhere is more limited and dependent on borough level interpretations of policy. Westminster has prioritised conservation and prevented new high rises (except at the Paddington Station development) while neighbouring boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark are more inclined to accept proposals, and use the much needed revenue for further housing development.

As well as covering the current planning debate, the exhibition includes many beautiful architectural models of existing and future high building proposals. There are some really unique designs, such as the fountain pen-shaped ‘Pinnacle’ that is back under development in the main City of London cluster.

Overall the exhibition is well worth a visit, and whether you are a fan or a critic of high buildings in London, there is clearly a need for greater awareness and discussion of current changes and what they will mean for the urban environment. There is also a need for more public access to open models and visualisations of how new buildings will appear and change London’s physical structure. Andy Hudson-Smith (@digitalurban) argued for this a few years back in CASA’s Virtual London project, and it appears that trends are currently moving in this direction.

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World City Living and Working Densities: Poles Apart?

One of the most recognisable visualisation techniques used by LSE Cities in the Urban Age publications is the 3D density map- an intuitive and engaging way to represent built form, and enable comparison of very different city environments across the globe. I’ve been producing 3D density maps in my own research for around five years now, and so it was a nice challenge to produce the 3D density maps for this year’s Urban Age conference, the Electric City in London. In this post I focus on the contrasting densities in three leading world cities- London, New York and Hong Kong- with the added twist that both residential and employment densities are mapped for comparison.

Higher urban densities can facilitate more sustainable travel patterns, improve service delivery efficiency, reduce building energy use and promote urban vitality. These advantages depend of course on good urban planning to minimise congestion and pollution problems. High density mixed-use development is central to the compact city planning movement, and remains a foundation of sustainable planning policy today. Here we map the number of residents in each square kilometre of a 100 by 100 kilometre region for London, New York and Hong Kong. Lower urban densities apply to suburban-like neighbourhoods, while high densities generally represent medium or high rise buildings clustered on a tight urban grid.

The city that stands out in the mapping is Hong Kong, with its extremely high residential densities exceeding 110,000 people per km2. Here planners have responded to scarce land availability with very tall (over 30 storeys) high-density development. Scarce land has also influenced the development of New York City, where Manhattan densities peak at 59,000 people per km2. London in comparison is much lower density. The heritage of suburban housing and generous greenspace has created a residential culture at half the density of New York and a quarter the density of Hong Kong. Despite current intensification in London, residential densities remain a world away from other global cities.

Where people live is not however the only perspective needed to understand urban density. We can also examine employment densities for an important point of comparison (both residential and employment maps are at the same scale). Taller spikes in the employment maps represent higher numbers of jobs concentrated in business centres. London, New York and Hong Kong feature very intensive central employment clusters. The highest peak of over 150,000 jobs per km2 is in Midtown Manhattan. London is surprisingly close behind at over 140,000 jobs per km2, concentrated in the City of London and the West End. Hong Kong peaks at 120,000 jobs per km2 in Central (note the Hong Kong survey data is less comprehensive and may underestimate peak densities). These intense spikes represent very strong agglomeration economies, where financial and business services and creative industries cluster together to access labour markets, share fast-changing information and engage in face-to-face interaction with clients, customers and partners. Despite living in an age of instant telecommunication, proximity is still critical for many world city business activities.

The extreme employment density peaks are indicative of economic success in these world cities. Demand for office space is so stong that developers get sufficient returns to build high and businesses use their space more intensively. Central employment clustering also means these cities are dominated by public transport rather than car travel (particularly Hong Kong). On the other hand the divergence of living and working densities can signify a lack of integration between living and working locations. London is very polarised between its low density living and high density working environments. This contributes to the long distance and long duration commuting travel for many Londoners (recent surveys find an average one-way commute times for Londoners of 38 minutes). New York has a better integration of living and working locations (average commutes are around 31 minutes). Hong Kong appears to have the closest integration of living and working spaces, though unfortunately commuting time survey data is not available to test this.

The analysis here supports the medium-rise inner-city residential intensification that the London Plan prescribes to improve the balance of urban functions, and increase accessibility for residents and businesses. The gap in residential densities between London and many world cities is so large that modest intensification can be achieved while keeping London’s distinct character, providing development is on the much remaining brownfield land rather than London’s treasured greenspaces.

Another interesting thought is whether the highly concentrated office clusters we see in London and New York will continue to be the way most businesses operate in the future. Greg Lindsay gave a good talk last week on how businesses are changing the way they use work space towards more shared and flexible environments that will likely be less space demanding.

To see more detailed analysis of sustainability trends in many more world cities from the Urban Age conference see the Electric City conference newspaper.

Urban Age Electric City Conference

ElectricCity

I recently began a new job at LSE Cities and have been working for the last month on materials for the Electric City conference in London, taking place on the 6th and 7th December this week. The conference will be exploring smart cities and disruptive urban tech from a sociological slant, and includes talks from famous urbanists such as Ed Glaeser, Saskia Sassen and Deyan Sudjic. You can get a flavour of the debate from Richard Sennett’s provocative article on “Stupefying Smart Cities”.

The whole event will be live streamed on the conference website.

My role, alongside the LSE Cities Research Team, has been in producing comparative urban visualisations and analysis around the theme of sustainable urbanism. These visuals and articles are now online in the conference newspaper.

A Tale of Tech City: the future of Inner East London’s Digital Economy

Earlier this month Demos published a fascinating report on the hot topic of London’s “Tech City” cluster, which has been promoted by the government as a key growth pole for the UK. The report authors Max Nathan, Emma Vandore and Rob Whitehead, put the Inner East London cluster in the context of similar phenomena in New York and Berlin; and get their hands dirty with some in-depth data analysis and face-to-face interviews of entrepreneurs. Policy recommendations are then made for the best way forward.

There have been some cool efforts at mapping the Silicon Roundabout Shoreditch/Old Street cluster from Wired UK, and from Tech City Map using social networking connections. A more traditional robust approach was taken in this report of using the various business survey datasets to measure firms and their activities. The scale of the cluster (defined more widely to include Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and Hoxton) was found to be larger than previously thought, at around 3,200 digital economy firms and 48,000 jobs, with these industries becoming increasingly important for the London economy.

I got involved with the project doing some density mapping of the core industries that make up the cluster: ICT firms and creative industry firms. The key message that comes from such mapping is that the cluster is embedded in a digital-creative corridor stretching from the West-End and Soho through Clerkenwell and on to Shoreditch.

From a spatial perspective, the cluster is about the Jane Jacobs type urban diversity fusion of IT and creative industries, very similar to Silicon Alley in NYC. High profile success stories like LastFM (music, digital broadcasting and social networking crossover) and Unruly Media (advertising, social network and analytics crossover) are prime examples of this integration. This tech-creative fusion clearly distinguishes the Inner London cluster from the IT software/hardware concentrations you get in Silicon Valley, or in the “Western Wedge” around Heathrow.

A high profile policy objective from the UK government has been to link the Inner East London cluster to future opportunities at the Olympic Park. The Demos report convincingly argues that the focus should rather be on the current cluster, enhancing funding opportunities, skills and growing new businesses. Moving to the Olympic Park is problematic in terms of it lacking the history, creativity and ‘vibe’ of the current cluster. The absence of creative and IT firms around Stratford is apparent in the above maps. Opportunities in the Olympic Park are more likely to suit larger established IT and engineering firms attracted to new high-spec offices.

That’s not to say the Olympic Park can’t have a role however. The firm interviews in the Demos report identified the lack of skilled workers being a big issue, at all levels including graduates:

There just aren’t enough computer scientists in the uk. And we need computer scientists, we don’t need – what do they call it – ICT trained people. We need real computer scientists who do software engineering and programming. No education coupled with visa restrictions is not a particularly good combination.

So apart from lifting the current counter-productive visa restrictions in the UK, there’s a clear role for universities in training more computer scientists with the right skills to succeed in these growing industries. This is what London universities are now in the process of doing at the Olympic Park, with new campuses planned and initiatives such as the UCL-Imperial smart cities institute in the pipeline. Your very own CASA is already involved in training graduates with smart cities skills. Smart Cities industries can themselves be viewed as a built environment-engineering-ICT fusion, likely complimentary to creative industry clusters.

 

 

BBC London Calling Season

 

To mark the Olympic year a series of programs on London is being broadcast by the BBC, exploring the dynamic and diverse nature of the capital and its historic roots. There have already been some great documentaries on, with interesting use of maps, archive materials and personal testimonies charting the changing city and built-environment.

Last night saw the start of The Secret History of Our Streets, telling London’s history in microcosm by picking one street to follow in each episode through good times and bad. The first episode told the rather tragic tale of Deptford High Street, which moved from a relatively thriving working class centre in the early 20th century to one of London’s poorest areas in the present.

A shop trader John Price (below) who has lived in Deptford all his life engagingly recounts the close community life of his youth with his extended family all living on the same street. This is brought to an end with the drawn out demolition of the Victorian terraced housing to be replaced by modern estates. The existing community is separated as families move out to suburban new towns.

Modernist planning is unashamedly painted as the bad guy in this narrative. “Tell ’em the truth, tell ’em how they fucked everything up” mutters a passerby in one scene. The father of British Planning, Patrick Abercrombie, appears as a monocled toff in the archive footage, as he expresses his disgust at London’s old housing. This critical view of planning intervention is clearly simplistic, as there were of course very severe housing problems in London.

Yet the filmmakers back up their perspective by uncovering the council’s environmental health archives, showing that John Price’s street was healthy and in a decent state of repair- not the slum that it was labelled. To add salt to this wound, such traditional housing is now in great demand in Deptford and Greenwich, with terraces on nearby streets selling for well over half a million pounds, in stark contrast to the drab and inflexible modernist housing that replaced it and cannot be gentrified. The forthcoming episodes in this series will likely tell more rosy tales of changing London, but Deptford’s history was hard hitting stuff and very well told.

Continuing on the traditional market theme, the BBC has also been exploring London’s remaining wholesale markets in The London Markets. These have moved out of the city centre for cheaper rents and road transport links, with Billingsgate fish market moving to Docklands and Covent Garden fruit and veg going to Vauxhall. Smithfield meat market is still hanging on near the City, but surely not for long. The arcane night-time world of the butchers appears as a weird anachronism surrounded by late night financiers and clubbers in Farringdon.

Lastly on a lighter note, A Picture of London explored artists interpretations of the city across time. As well as picture postcard views from Canaletto and Monet, some of London’s most dramatic moments are depicted such as the burning of the Houses of Parliament by Turner. My personal favourite however was this gem from the archives of a witty and prescient silent movie from the 1920’s of a time traveller guessing what London might be like in the future. Perhaps the oldest urban sci-fi film? Take a look:

Mapping Intra-metropolitan Journey-to-work Sustainability


As cities expand with multiple centres spread over massive regional hinterlands, the need to better understand the geographical variation across and within cities has become more pressing. This need applies strongly to issues of travel sustainability, where urban centres differ greatly in the accessibility they facilitate for private, public and active transport.

Spatial indicators are a useful tool to summarise complicated intrametropolitan patterns, as illustrated in my new working paper mapping CO2 emissions from journey-to-work travel across the London Region. The results of this indicator show a massive range of travel emissions by workplace of up to 300%, with particular problems for airports and the specialised employment region of the Western Sector, as can be seen in the map above.

This paper was co-authored with Joan Serras at CASA, who helped with the development of the road and public transport network analysis to model realistic routing behaviour from origin and destination flows from the 2001 census. One interesting aspect to this was the inclusion of GPS data to model average road speeds in London as illustrated below:

Full paper abstract:

“This paper develops a methodology for estimating network distances and CO2 emissions for UK census ward-level journey-to-work interactions. Improvements are made on existing empirical measures by providing comprehensive intra-metropolitan analysis; increasing network routing accuracy with UK public transport timetable and GPS-based average road speed data; allowing multimodal travel; and developing metrics suitable for travel sustainability analysis. The output unit of CO2 emissions has been selected to enable the integration of mode-choice and travel distance data, and to aid compatibility with integrated assessment applications. 

The methodology is applied to the case study of the London Region for the year 2001. A very high degree of intra-metropolitan variation is identified in the results. Employment sub-centres diverge in their per-capita CO2 emissions by up to 300%, with specific problems of carbon intensive commuting to major airports and the specialised employment region of the Western Sector. These findings indicate that subcentre travel variation may be intrinsic to polycentric urban structures. The paper discusses means to improve the methodology, in relation to issues of coefficient disaggregation and modelling more complicated multi-modal trips.”

Sponsored Space

Cities have always been the great spaces of commerce, trade and advertising; and recent decades have seen the corporate realm expand with the privatisation of services such as transport and utilities. Arguably corporate ownership is currently taking a new aspect with the explicit branding of urban places. English football clubs now play at the Emirates, Etihad and Sports Division Arena, rather than at Highbury, City of Manchester and St James’s Park stadiums. Skyscrapers in Canary Wharf project gigantic banking logos across East London. Westfield super-malls have branded entire new urban districts of streets and squares.

This process is not new- corporations have been building places to express their brands for a long time. Disneyland is perhaps the most famous example, and arguably the original UK new towns like Cadbury’s Bournville shared some of the same ideals. Many useful projects would simply not happen without corporate sponsorship, such as the popular (but loss-making)  Barclays Cycle Hire scheme in London, soon to be mimicked with Citi-Bike in New York.

The question however is whether this process represents a ‘slippery slope’ towards a comprehensive corporate branding of urban space. There has been much recent debate in London over the mayor’s decision to develop a cable car project across the Thames at the O2 Arena (another corporate venue). The project is sponsored by Emirates airlines and their name will be attached to two public transport stations, including appearing on London’s classic public transport map for a period of ten years.

The impact is fairly minor, though it does mean London is now in the dubious company of Dubai and Las Vegas in allowing sponsorship of subway stations. It did get me thinking, what would happen if London let rip and allowed the full sponsorship of the public transport network? My guess at the resulting network for London of businesses naming districts where they locate is below.

Obviously this map is satirical and would never actually be allowed to happen. I would argue though that this map does in its own way represent a real geography of corporations and capital flows in London. Is this map a more functionally honest representation of contemporary London than traditional images?

 

London 3D Augmented Reality Map

CASA hosted a very successful Smart Cities event last Friday, including presentations from Carlo Ratti, Mike Batty and Andy Hudson-Smith. The event premiered an interactive exhibition we have been working on, based on the theme of mixing physical and digital worlds. Some fantastic and fun exhibits have been developed by colleagues including George MacKerron, Steven GrayOllie O’Brien, Fabian Neuhaus, James Cheshire, Richard MiltonMartin de Jode, Ralph BarthelJon Reades, Hannah Fry, Toby DaviesPete Ferguson and Martin Austwick, who no doubt will be blogging about them all soon. Thanks to everyone who attended and contributed to a great day.

For my own exhibit I had a try at developing an augmented reality app to explore 3D urban data. The idea was to use iPads as the window into a 3D urban map of London, allowing the user to navigate around the virtual model to see different perspectives and focus on interesting parts of the data. Do we respond differently to data with a seemingly physical presence? Well this is one way to find out…

The app was developed in Unity using the Vuforia AR extension, and I was impressed with how accessible augmented reality technology has become using such tools. Firstly GIS data on urban form in London and air pollution was exported from ArcMap into Unity, and an interface to the data was developed. The core app without the AR capabilities can be viewed here (Unity web player required).

Next I followed the Vuforia iOS tutorials to add AR functionality. This approach uses a tracking image to position and scale the 3D model to the user’s viewpoint. Nice features of Vuforia include the ability to select your own tracking image, and that it can handle some occlusion of the image when the user moves to a particular part of the model, although a part of the tracking image must be in view of the camera at all times otherwise the model disappears from the user’s view. A large A0 poster was used as the tracking image, giving users greater flexibility in navigating the data.

The resulting app is very intuitive and delivered the desired ‘wow’ factor with many of the attendees at the conference. The AR aspect certainly encouraged users to explore the data, and identify patterns at different scales.

Adding more interactivity, animation and sorting out some issues with the target image (multiple smaller images would have worked better than one very large image) would all be nice for version 2. I’ll do a more detailed tutorial on the workflow developed later on if this is of interest.

The Evolving Business Geography of Greater London

I presented at the CASA Seminar Series yesterday on the topic of business centre specialisation in Greater London. The discussion drew on previous research into knowledge economy agglomeration and urban property markets.

The analysis showed how the diversity and restricted growth of West London underpins the current extremely high rents, whilst the greatly densified City of London faces oversupply with lower demand for financial services after the economic crises. The recent revival of centres in the City Fringe is based on creative industries and IT/new media, and it’s hoped similar recipes will work for future business centres at Kings Cross and Stratford.

 

The slides can be viewed here:

Sketching the City in Motion

Whilst social scientists approach cities from rational and technical perspectives, it’s often interesting to get some inspiration from the creative arts world. Linking with artists is an emerging trend at CASA, with collaboration with Edinburgh College of Art through the TalesofThings project, the use of common visualisation tools such as Processing, and recent events like James’s presentation at the Mapping London Life event.

A shared challenge for artists and scientists is exploring the dynamics of cities, from the buzz of daily street life to the slower demolition and creation of the built-environment. An artist I admire for capturing these flows through static images is Lucinda Rogers, whose works have recently gone online on a new website. Her illustrations of street life in New York and London use line thickness and blurred colour to give the impression of forms in motion- from pedestrians and cars on the street to cranes dancing around St Pauls.

Rogers tends to choose Inner City subjects just at the edge of the centre, where gentrification processes are in tension with the historic fabric and traditional industries- locations such as Shoreditch and mid-town Manhattan. In this sense New York and London have much in common.

Another interesting London illustration book recently released in London Unfurled. Matteo Pericoli has done a series of books of super-long panoramas, published concertina style in one very long folded sheet. For London he follows the Thames from Hammersmith to Greenwich, with the north bank on one side of the page and the south bank on the other. This works well as the Thames is a key way  to ‘learn’ the form of London, from historic panoramas to the present day. If a 20 metre long panorama is too big for your coffee table, London Unfurled also comes in ipad version.

London Urban Form 3D Map

The structure of large cities such as London is complex and endlessly fascinating. Effective visualisation can reveal the many patterns in urban structures for research and planning tasks, and the visualisation challenge is to manage the multi-dimensional and dynamic nature of urban complexity. Here we explore the geography of land-use and density across Greater London using 3D cartography at a 500 metre grid scale (HD version here):

London is highly centralised, with recent patterns of intensification in the City of London, Canary Wharf and Inner London more generally cementing this pattern. Meanwhile much of Outer London struggles to attract higher value commercial uses. We will explore the agglomeration, property market, and planning policy processes that underlie these trends in future posts.

Many of land use patterns visible in London resemble the ‘classic’ urban location theory models: there is an extreme Alonso-type density gradient; retail uses retain a central-place hierarchy; and there are distinct radial corridors. Additionally further theories on the economics of mix-of-uses (e.g. Jacobs) and the lumpy mega-scale of real-estate investment are clearly key parts of London’s make-up.

The London Urban Form movie was created in ArcGlobe, which has some nice features like the ability to change the background mapping and animation timeline features. The advantages of doing the movie within GIS is the ability to easily combine spatial data at a variety of scales. Some of the more advanced animation effects that I would like to use such as geometry transitions (to show growth and decline) and controlling lighting are however not possible in GIS. A previous visualisation of this data in 3DS Max by Andy-Hudson Smith shows how these effects can be achieved.

 

 

 

Shaping London by Terry Farrell

I have recently been enjoying Terry Farrell’s book “Shaping London: the patterns and forms that make the metropolis”. Farrell is one of the UK’s best known and respected urban planners, and his passion for place-making and urban culture shine through in this accessible discussion of the development of the capital.

Rather than an analysis of planning politics and economics, Farrell considers the historic features that underlie London’s structure and continue their influence to the present day- the Thames, village centres, estates and major transport infrastructure. He convincingly shows through text and illustration that contemporary planning tensions between connectivity and place-making are age-old London challenges, from the bridging the Thames 2000 years ago to present day issues over airports and motorways.

Of particular interest to me was the discussion of rail development. London is currently dominated by rail-land development schemes (Kings Cross, Stratford, Waterloo, Paddington…) with difficulties in integrating these sites into the wider urban realm. The history of the railways underlies the many issues of connectivity and isolation that create severance in areas of Inner London from rail and industrial infrastructure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So overall a very enjoyable book. And as a bonus it includes some great images from CASA’s very own Andy Hudson-Smith.