Thursday, April 28, 2011

Syntax of Downtown Dallas

Blogging/tweeting will be very light again today as you would think we were working to redevelop the Kremlin. I'm not, but such is the process here in the great state of Texas.

The below image is a graphical analysis I put together with the aid of the Space Syntax software. You may have read me quote Bill Hillier a few or several or many times over the three years I've been blogging, but space syntax is the brainchild and product of his several decades of work and research as professor of architecture and urban morphology at the University of London.

Click to embiggen.

Space syntax and the associated analysis are intended to measure overall spatial integration, which is what Hillier and his associates/proteges/students use to correlate with overall land value. They've put together countless studies showing the direct relationship between spatial integration and lowered levels of crime, increased pedestrian counts, commercial business, and overall land values, aka what I call desirability.

I should add that Hillier's objective with this work was to offer up some measure of objectivity. Some rules that track throughout the course of cities present, past, and future when so much, too many, decisions regarding cities are determined subjectively. Entirely so, i.e. architects or engineers or whoever thinking something is pretty and convincing you so via ideology and rhetoric. Space syntax was created in order to track with (supposedly) objective econometrics which provided the other half of the development decision making process. This is not to say that subjectivity and econometrics should be ignored, but rather supplemented by this data.
--end addendum--

As you see in the map of downtown Dallas, the thick dark red line is Main Street. Red means highest degree of spatial integration (in relation to all those within the confines of the study area). Ross Avenue is second highest and you see it in orange. What is both striking and predictable is how lowly the rest of downtown Dallas scores. And the space syntax software doesn't even account for one-way roads which, based on the logic of spatial integration, would lower scores throughout the area.

The results track hand-in-hand w/ my previous analyses using turning/curb radii and a concept I call convergence, which is not unexpected at all, since space syntax provided the logical foundation for my expansion of what space syntax does and what I perceived to be some of its limitations necessary for turning into readily made computing software.

I verified the previous paragraph in email conversations with Harvard Loeb fellow and current managing director of Space Syntax Tim Stonor, who kindly replied to my inquisitions about space syntax, some of the graphics they produced, my perceived limitations, and my convergence analyses. In particular, I was interested in a graphic they put together which turned integration values into building heights for a 3-D representation of land value, tracking with what I've said before that density = desirability.

High integration means high value in the "movement economy," i.e. access and the commercial viability to capitalize on it. This then in turn means high level of service (commercial) and amenity. Which then, in turn, ought to mean high level of demand for residential proximity to said amenities. In theory, it and the process to deliver the above, means a full urban ecology in bloom where each nourishes the other in positive feedback loops.

If we take that idea to the downtown Dallas graphic we can see (or at least verify what we understand intuitively) why Main Street is so successful, yet its success has yet to spill off of Main Street. I've offered other conclusions including the scale/size/speed of the roads boxing in Main Street (and their one-way nature). But this graphic expands on that, suggesting that not many areas of downtown are very well connected into the larger system.

Thinking again about downtown and the plethora of high-rise towers throughout downtown and specifically in areas of low integration, we are left to wonder, were these mistakes? I would say, likely not (at least in the frame of the discussion of space syntax -- whether the towers themselves and their associated infrastructure/delivery system create barriers is another story). Instead, many of the towers were built thinking Dallas, and downtown, was on the upswing. Meanwhile, the overall spatial integration of much of downtown was systematically being eroded by our transportation ideology and investments.

For example, you start building a tower in downtown in 1980 right as Woodall Rogers expressway is going under construction. You think that means more access and increased value from the base point of where you started/bought the land/invested. Instead, it decreased access and spatial integration, eroding the area around your investment, but making housing developments in Plano and Frisco seem like a grand idea. Rational locators.

You did perfectly fine financially if you built and got the F out, selling your asset before the price correction by way of long-term market response.

So we're left with lots of built floor space in downtown Dallas with very low levels of spatial integration throughout. Meaning, more floor area space than what the land value would suggest is appropriate for a direct relationship. Also stated as, we've overvalued the land of downtown Dallas in its current state.

The logical answer would be to systematically attempt to increase the overall spatial integration of the area. This is where the beauty of the software comes in. You can compare/contrast theoretical/possible scenarios. This is exactly what I intend to do as I get time. I also plan on putting the entire city into the software...but, again, this is all time dependent and I have to get back to work, because I do this stuff just for fun and to learn about my city.