Friday, February 10, 2012

Magnum Opus: Integration --> Accommodation

Increase network integration, you increase demand as well as desirability (not by any particular individual but a larger percentage of the population). You also increase opportunity.

Much like plugging in your computer, that is one degree of local integration. You can now do new things, use different programs for whatever your wants and needs might be (word processing, photoshop, etc.). But then plug it into the internet and all of a sudden you've increased the integration, the degree of interconnectivity that much more. With a wider audience and the inherent feedback loops, you have that much more opportunity, a market to reach however you see there might be an intersection between demand and your interest/skill set.

Cities are built on a similar model to brains and the internet. They exist as a collection of increasingly nested individual cells organized around a hierarchy of hubs and intersections. These intersections exist within a hierarchy based on the amount of cells that can readily access the hub and spoke network.

Google is a global hub on the internet. New York or London are global hubs of industry, innovation, and culture. This works locally and globally. New York and London are both highly integrated locally and globally. They are global cities and we label them as such because they are more integrated than say, Lubbock. The degree of integration, the market available to reach, manifests itself as opportunity. People head towards the opportunity, if they so choose.

To some extent, a feedback loop exists, but it all starts with integration of networks. This is what drives a place from not viable as a piece of property, to viable, then livable, and ultimately memorable. A place isn't viable if you can't get there. Suburbs emerged as highways linked them with core cities. Land was repositioned from not viable (beyond anything other than agriculture or nature) to viable and even livable (although how many will continue as livable remains to be seen as time will test each of them mercilessly).

Ratchet up the degree of integration, you then ratchet up demand. Demand begets supply. Integration begets accommodation (supply). Accommodation could mean a restaurant at a main and main intersection. It could mean a hotel or gas station at a new junction. Or it even could mean a simple rain shelter at a bus stop. The bus stop is the place where a bus route intersects with the pedestrian route, a degree of integration is notched up. People start standing there waiting for the bus. If weather is inclement, they'll demand some level of comfort. The more people who it, the more comfort is required. Accommodation follows Integration.

While this works on a global or macro-scale: (A) NYC > (B) Dallas > (C) Lubbock, there is also what might be called a micro-scale. Or perhaps external and internal, hierarchies of "hubs" defined by degrees of integration exist within metropolitan areas. They even exist within your own house. The place where all paths cross has the highest degree of interaction. This might be where the entry axis (front door-foyer-living room-kitchen-back door) intersects with another (bathroom-bedroom-living room-bedroom-bathroom).

Opportunities for exchange exist at those intersections. In your house, the exchange might be entirely social. In a city, they might be for social or economic exchange. Opportunity to meet human need, which exists along Maslow's gradient.

However, Disintegrate and you'll see disinvestment as I showed with the space syntax of downtown Dallas post. The real estate market delivered supply (high rise office buildings) because downtown Dallas was the hub of activity with the highest degree of integration. All roads led to Rome, so to speak.

Unfortunately, the invisible arm began moving in a different direction while the invisible hand lagged. While developers invested in high-rises, the government was systematically undermining the demand they aimed to meet, building highways, disintegrating downtown while increasing the level of integration at the edges, giving rise to the "metroplex." Downtown was left with supply without demand, empty office buildings.

Some of these emptied completely. Usually the older ones, as "newness" still had value in a horrifically oversupplied market (see: both retail and office) in the form of "Grade A" office space. But, any building can be Grade A with enough demand. Some dropped price enough to maintain tenants. Others must be filled with tax breaks. None of these conditions is ideal, healthy, or sustainable.

In global cities where local and global integration remains high, say Barcelona or New York or London, demand is so high that renovating and reusing historic buildings makes monetary sense rather than "forever new."

Ways of measuring/ensuring high degrees of connectivity or integration include:
  • Space syntax, which is a mathematical measure essentially giving a higher degree to roads that all other roads lead to. In Dallas, this is Ross Avenue (which is why Ross has such a high potential for development compared to its current status). In Paris, this is Champs Elysees. In New York, it is Broadway.
  • Intersection density - which is a measurement found by Norman Garrick to be highly related to walkability and safety.
  • Convergence, which was a measure I derived and am tweaking, from both intersection density and space syntax. It relied less heavily on straight lines like space syntax. I'm not entirely sold that lines have to be arrow straight within a network. The goal here was to find network complexity, a balance between the previous two.
Each of these on their own is but a mere statistical measure. An abstraction. In conjunction and overlapped, they can begin telling a story. Where are hubs for opportunity? Of course they have limitations. They only measure local connectivity, often placing apples next to oranges.

However, local connectivity is still the foundation. But without global connectivity, places often struggle as seen by many of the new towns and garden cities, meant to be cities from scratch. All cities once started small at one time. The first degree of integration might have been one settler where a trading route intersected with arable land for self-sufficiency. It might have been where this trade route met with a deep water port. Or it might have been where two railroads intersected creating a junction and plenty of passers by.

However, once a place rises through ever-increasing demand-supply feedback loops of integration-accommodation, increasing global connectivity has a cost and not just dollar wise in terms of infrastructure. That cost is tolerated because the benefits of the new connection pay off the upfront cost. The other cost, the more destructive one, is what the infrastructure for global connectivity does to local connectivity. Airports, highways, rail roads, all break down the network complexity of the grid, reduce local connectivity. The key is maintaining these global connections as tangential as possible to the fabric of the city without disturbing the local degree of integration.

The lesson of all of this is usually land is already at the highest and best use appropriate to the degree at which it is integrated with its surroundings and the world (with some lag time as with the downtown Dallas skyscrapers). Opportunity exists in finding properties below where they ought to be (like Ross Ave) or reworking an areas infrastructure to increase its degree of interconnectivity thereby repositioning it for qualitative development and improvement.

Focusing on integration, particularly local integration, is the only way we can get back to qualitative improvement and development of our cities that is authentic and organic, rather than cannibalistic and consumptive "growth for growth's sake." It is the only way infrastructural spending and building will increase value rather than decrease value and become unsustainable as the current model does.

Authenticity, the place people lack yet yearn for (once again), is emergent through local demand.

Improve the network, improve the city. That's how you truly capture value...keep it...and build upon it, ever increasingly. Or, do the opposite and bleed value.