Suburban ‘ped sheds’ could space syntax help make more of this concept?

December 13, 2006

The idea of a ‘ped-shed’ has been around for a while in the literature and is particularly associated with Llewelyn Davies (1998) Sustainable Residential Quality – New approaches to urban living, LPAC. [no link]. It refers to a walkability catchment beyond the immediate town centre boundaries that corresponds to approximately 800m or 10 minutes walk though, of course, these measures are not absolute. In their report City of Villages (2002) for the GLA, URBED (while expressing their dislike of the term-itself) make the case for ped sheds as constituting a distinctive planning area located between the town centre and the residential ‘suburban heartlands’ and separate from concentrations of office and manufacturing based employment. The ped shed area was deemed suitable for intensitification, higher densities and mixed-use development in order to support local centres in sustaining a wide variety of services and providing ‘urban buzz’ without undermining the traditional residential qualities of suburbs. The London Plan (2004) does not mention ped sheds but prefers the more nebulous ‘neighbourhood’ which is defined a little more closely defined in the pilot study to Sustainable Suburbs Tookit (2005) p.5 as a place within easy walking distance of the town centre. In fact, it seems possible that the Mayor’s Office may have chosen not to adopt URBED’s exact four tier typology (centre, ped shed, residential heartlands and employment areas) because of local fears that promoting ped sheds may lead to the urbanisation of suburbs. I think it’s generally true to say that ‘neighbourhood’ in the London Plan is equivalent to town centre + ped shed in the URBED report

In any case, the idea of an area of heightened pedestrian accessibility betwee the town-centre and residential areas is one area in which the creative tension of ‘boundary’ and ‘configuration’ could be usefully explored on the project through a combination of space syntax and GIScience. Using metric segment analysis indexed to reliable measures of pedestrian speed (perhaps for different members of the population, such as the elderly and parents with children) we could identify the morphological characteristics of five and ten minutes’ walk from the town centre boundary for key population types – a reworking of the ‘ped shed’ idea. The difference is the quality of the configurational analysis we can bring to the concept of town centre neighbourhoods – which is likely to reveal the complexity of this concept. For example, long straight roads leading from the centre will produce a more distant boundary than a sequence of winding streets and therefore be topologically and in terms of angular analysis ‘nearer’. A correlation of metric distance / time taken against accumulated segment intgration along a route, with number of turns, choice etc. would help generate hypotheses on town centre accessibility but I’m sure we could do much better than this. The broader question really concerns the *scale* at which a given town centre naturally ‘works’ within the wider configuration and relates to surrounding land-use types.

We have boundaries which are good (to a point) at summarising socio-economic information and we have syntax which is good at configurational analysis – relevant to movement especially beyond central streets where the relative absence of retail does not provide an indicator. How could combining the two help us to provide an analysis of the exent to which successful suburban town centres are well supported by ‘ped shed neighhbourhood’ areas with particular configurational qualities relating not only to densities but also accessibility, co-presence and land-uses?

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