Towards Successful Suburban Town Centres
A study of the relationship between morphology, sociability, economics and accessibility

Please note that this project has finished. The current project is Adaptable Suburbs.

Profiling London's Suburbs: a description of the profiles
click here to open profiler

  1. What are the optimal settings for viewing the profiler?
  2. What is the purpose of this document?
  3. What data is contained the profiler?
  4. Why was the profiler developed?
  5. How do I use the profiler?
  6. Why is the profiler best viewed as an application using a screen of 1280 x1024?
  7. Why did you not develop a web-based GIS?
  8. Why is the profiler only available for some of London's suburbs?
  9. What suburban town centre boundaries were used in the profiler?
  10. How were the suburban town centres identified
  11. How were the 20 case studies selected?


What are the optimal settings for viewing the profiler?

This profiler has been developed primarily for internal use by the Towards Successful Suburban Town Centres research team. It has been optimised for use in a particular hardware and software environment.

  • Platform: PC
  • Operating system: Microsoft Windows XP
  • Browser: Mozilla Firefox version
  • Monitor resolution: 1280 x 1024 (more information)

The profiler has full functionality in other environments but some interface design features may be impaired: Internet Explorer version 7.0.5730.11 in a Windows XP environment, Mozilla Firefox v. and Safari v.3.0.4 in a Macintosh OSX 10.5.2 environment.

The profiler will not function properly on Internet Explorer on an Apple Macintosh


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What is the purpose of this document?

As part of the Successful Suburban Town Centres project (SSTC), the project team has been developing an internet-based tool to enable cartographic exploration of the 26 sample centres which are being investigated. This document has been written to support the launch of version 1 of the town centre profiler which can be accessed from the 7th March 2008 using this link:


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What data is contained in the profiler?

The profiler is a geo-visualisation tool that allows the non-GIS expert to explore cartographic representations of different social, economic and spatial (space syntax) themes across the 20 randomly sampled suburban town centres - alongside a control group of 6 larger suburban centres. The tool allows the user to explore a variety of map themes at consistent scales, enabling local knowledge about the suburban environment to be compiled using a comparative method of transitions to discover patterns within and between centres.

Table 1: Socio-economic mapping themes and associated data sources
Table 2: Space syntax mapping themes and associated data sources


Link to detailed description of data mapped in profiler


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Why was the profiler developed?

The SSTC project is comprised of a mutli-disciplinary research team with skills and expertise acquired from history, geography, GIS, architecture and the built environment. With such diverse skill-sets available, it was important that all data collected by the project team was processed, visualised and analysed in a coherent and systematic method.

The project seeks to profile the selected town centres according to their socio-economic activity, morphological characteristics, commuting patterns and typical modes of transport. It draws upon a range of methods for the spatial analysis of social and economic activities at various scales. The visualisation of urban form using spaces syntax methodology is of particular interest, enabling the spatial structure of streets and the layout of the buildings to be compared with information about the people who live and work in suburban centres. The profiler enables these diverse datasets to be explored systematically.

As a result, the motivation behind the development of the tool known as the 'town centre profiler' was two-fold: firstly, to enable the development of a series of hypotheses to direct the analytical phase of the SSTC project, and secondly, to provide local planners with an enriched picture of the local neighbourhood and its suburban structure.


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How do I use the profiler?

The simplicity of the application provides one advantage to the user and their quest for information and knowledge. The tool is an interactive atlas of maps, where the menu options provide access to a multidimensional map index. The maps themselves cannot be changed, they are static, and this ensures the user considers in detail the actual content of the maps and their meaning

The profiler is divided into 4 sections, which are highlighted by the dashed red lines in Figure 1.

section one: profiler status
section two: current map theme
section three: map theme supporting information
section four: map menu


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Why is the profiler best viewed as an application using a screen of 1280 x1024?

The profiler itself is very easy and intuitive to use, although because it was borne out of a university research project it was optimised for visualising on a display screen of 1280 by 1024 and is best viewed when it is launched as a full screen application on a screen of this size. Whilst it is uncommon to fix the display size of web-based information, and indeed contradicts best practice guidelines, the thought behind doing was to ensure that the size of the map images could be optimised sufficiently. This encourages proper evaluation of the information because the cartographic representations are available at a useful size, maximising the utilisation and taking advantage of the browser's environment, whilst ensuring that the geo-visualisation tool remains effective and suitable for its purpose.


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Why did you not develop a web-based GIS?

The interdisciplinary nature of the project team meant that cartographic visualisations needed to be produced for exploratory analysis, but without reliance on GIS technology expertise, therefore interactive web mapping tools were not appropriate for the users. The development of the profiler carefully considers the end use of the maps and the types of functionality required to make them useful, whilst limiting functionality found in a traditional GIS such as panning, zooming, classifying themes and changing colours. This is because the interaction of the map itself would detract from the content and meaning for non expert users. This is especially important as our project team is comprised of researchers from various academic backgrounds. These reasons, combined with the large number of centres, scattered across a regional spatial extent and diverse range of mapping themes, provided the impetus for the slideshow functionality. The gradual transitions of the slideshow enables horizontal comparison across each of the town centres. This allows similarities and differences to be visually examined. Such transitions in a web GIS would be messy and difficult to implement and control, and introduce more complexity than necessary into the system.


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Why is the profiler only available for some of London's suburbs?

London is a highly suburban city, with a significant proportion of its population distributed around suburban localities. For this reason it has been described as a "city of villages" (URBED 2002). It was chosen as the project's study area both for its rich history and variety of local centres which have given rise to a unique and distinctive urban form.

The London Plan acknowledged that the city's history had bequeathed it a distinctive set of spatial characteristics (GLA 2004: 1). London is a relatively low- rise and low density open city when compared to other world cities and most European capitals. Two-thirds of its land area and a large proportion of its population and workplace are located in the suburbs. It has an attractive network of open and water spaces with a well-established pattern of suburban town centres (defined as retail cores) varying in size and function from the West-End and Knightsbridge in Central London to local centres such as Surbiton or Borehamwood further out in the Greater London area. There are, therefore, many potential 'suburbs' to choose from.

It is the suburbia of the interwar period (1919-39), described by Whitehand and Carr (2002), that forms the primary object of research for the SSTC project. During this time there was a steady rise in status of the inland suburban and country towns of Southern England, in particular the suburban centres around London (Hall et al., 2001). These settlements continue to constitute what are popularly regarded as the 'typical' suburbs of postwar England. View full list of references


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What suburban town centre boundaries were used in the profiler?

The suburban town centre boundaries used in this research were derived from a project commissioned by the UK government department formally known as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) and currently referred to as the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The research project conducted by the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at UCL defined consistent statistical areas of town centre activity using government data and GIS. The project defined a consistent model for defining suburban town centres with boundaries and statistics for planning and monitoring applications, but within its criteria for boundary definition it excluded the presence of industry and applied a minimum size threshold to define the centres (ODPM, 2002). The project identified 229 town centres within the M25 region of London that are greater than 40sq ha in size, see Figure 2 showing London town centre boundaries within the M25 boundary


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How were the suburban town centres identified?

There is a widely accepted consensus that the built phase of London's growth associated with the second half of the nineteenth century is no longer suburban but has become part of the urbanised area of central London's core. The category of suburban town centres used in this project was identified by developing a 'historical filter' to capture that area of London most associated with the rapid growth of inter-war suburbia. In 1944, the Greater London Plan explored the sporadic expansion of communities in outer London, focussing on the period of 1919 to 1939 (Abercrombie, 1944). The geographical extent of the Greater London plan represented the area extending outwards from the jurisdiction of the the London City Council area of 1891 see (Figure 3a)

To define the outer extent of London's suburbs the M25 motorway that circles London was used. The inner ring roads of the north and south circular (A405 and A206) provide the basic line of the inner boundary see (Figure 3b). The inner boundary was modified slightly to include the London City Council boundary of 1891 as used by the 1944 London Plan (the greyed out area illustrated in Figure 3a). These inner and outer boundaries are highlighted in green (See Figure 3c) areas. Modifying our boundaries to be coincidental with the inner circular roads of London and the London City Council defines the area of the 'historical doughnut' which approximates to the period of interwar suburban development


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How were the 20 case studies selected?

A number of filters were applied to the dataset to enable case study selection. The 'historical doughnut' was used as a filter to select only those centres which developed as suburbs during the interwar period. Then a stratified random sampling framework was applied to the remaining town centres. This led to the identification of 20 suburban town centres (see Figure 4) that appear in the profiler application.

Town centres selected had to meet the following criteria:

  1. Town centres must be located within the historical doughnut, but not around its edges
  2. Town centres must have manufacturing located within 250m of their boundary (as the crow files)
  3. Town centres must have offices within their core boundary
  4. It was optional for Town centres to have offices within 250m of their boundary
  5. It was optional for Town centres to have manufacturing within in their boundary
  6. For a range of variables the town centres must consistently fall within the inter quartile range (removing outliers of very large/small town centres)
  7. There must be an even distribution across London: north, south, east, west

Further details about the selection critieria


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EPSRC reference: EP/D06595X/1