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.
Within the next 20 years, most of the growth in housing development in England and Wales is predicted to occur in suburban settlements. At the same time, this development is expected to be sustainable economically and environmentally, which means that the suburb is required to provide local economic activities in order to minimise travel and to support cohesive and vibrant communities.
One of the main problems that urban planners and designers face when they try to materialise this vision is the lack of knowledge on the factors that make the suburban town centre and its surroundings successful and vibrant. The Towards Successful Suburban Town Centres project addressed this issue by developing tools and techniques to assist in the development of existing and new urban areas.
The Towards Successful Suburban Centres project ran for three years. Its research involved conducting spatial analysis of social and economic activities at street block level using space syntax tools integrated into a geographical information system. The research focused on twenty-six case studies drawn from the Greater London area with a detailed study of three of these. In most policy research there is no unified analytical framework; urban designers focus on the street layout, while social-scientists are concerned with the social and economic aspects of town centre planning. We developed an integrated methodology that allows the visualisation and analysis of the structure of streets and the layout of buildings in combination with economic and social information about the people who live and work in the same area.
We developed new techniques for the analysis of the suburban town centre and it surroundings. Using a Geographical Information System (GIS), we developed a method that enables the adjustment of historical maps to the latest detailed digital data from the Ordnance Survey. We wrote an algorithm for automated capture of street address data to the street block 'objects'. We also used GIS to integrate the street address data and to conduct spatial analysis on socio-economic development of town centres through time. We also developed ethnographic methods to study patterns of movement and space use, including an innovative use of video for this purpose.
The Towards Successful Suburban Centres project has contributed to the policy debate on the future of suburbs, developed methods to assist urban planners in making development decisions, innovated in the use of historical maps and explored possibilities for integrating socio-economic data with information about the layout of urban areas. The project has benefitted the public by creating a profiling tool online in which spatial, social and economic data is made available for the design of successful suburbs, see the SSTC profiler. Publications can be found on the publications page of the new project website, see Adaptable Suburbs publications.
As well as publications in leading journals, including Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, other forms of dissemination during the project included consultancy to 'City-Suburbs Project' for Barnet Council in partnership with the Centre for Local Government Leadership and to the North London Strategic Alliance and West London Alliance on 'Town Centres and the Economy'. We presented our research to the Outer London Commission and at several public workshops, including the June 2009 'Densifying our Suburbs' seminar. We were also approached by Kingston Borough Council to advise on the plan for Surbiton town centre and we were involved with a knowledge transfer project 'The intangible value of urban layout'. The latter project integrated and cross referenced valuations of social, security and environmental aspects of urban layouts in order to inform the planning and design process in London. This was part of a HEFCE-funded £5m initiative: UrbanBuzz: Building Sustainable Communities.