Fringe Belts and Space Syntax – a point of similarity

November 27, 2006

Research concerned with urban ‘fringe belts’ – particularly associated with the Urban Morphology Research Group at Birmingham University – and the space syntax approach to urban systems pioneered by Hillier and Hanson are, in many respects, very different. The former grew out of the Conzenian tradition of town plan analysis and has a strong historical-geographical emphasis, while the latter analyses spatial configurations using a method based on graph theory. (P.J. Larkham (2006) ‘The Study of Urban Form in Great Britain’, Urban Morphology, 10.2, p130 has something to say about this).

A reading of the article by Whitehand and Morton (2003) ‘Fringe belts and the recycling of urban land: an academic concept and planning practice’ , Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 30, pp.829-839, suggests what these two approaches share: namely a concern to identify the global properties of urban structure through an examination of urban space itself rather than through areal or administrative sub-units. Whereas fringe belt research emphasises patterns of historical development, plot size and land-use, space syntax research emphasises emergent spatial configurations, linearity and natural movement. Since the fringe belt development cycles is essentiallya suburban phenomenon it would be worth us considering how clearly it is identified through syntax analysis (the Daltons’ work on the ‘spatial signture of sprawl’ might be a good starting point). Similarly, a consideration of fringe belts of Greater London could help lead space syntax methods to a richer analysis of the spatial stucturing of suburban areas. Space syntax, of course, aspires to a elucidate the generic properties of urban structure, whereas the fringe belt research is more geographically particular (with much research focused on the UK). This need not be a difficulty for the SSTC project however, which is concerned with morphological and socio-historical development of suburban town centres in Greater London.

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