Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Urban design, street networks and the feel of a city - a thought

A curious observation:

Bill Hillier, a professor of Urban Morphology, offers a different interpretation. He suggests that the street network of any city is made up of a dual network −the foreground network, consisting of the main streets in the urban system, and background network, made up of alleyways or smaller streets. The foreground network, or the main street network, usually has a universal form, a ‘deformed wheel’ structure composed of small semi-grid street pattern in the center (hub) linked with at least one ring road (rim) through diagonal streets (spokes). But the form of the background network differs from a city to another; therefore it is this network that gives a city its spatial identity.

I must admit to being unconvinced by this argument (as is the writer of the article in question) but I do recognise the desire to understand why places 'feel' different - Bradford with its stone and steepness is markedly distinct from Leeds. But it's not just the stone - Huddersfield has that and still manages to look, sound and behave differently from Bradford.

It may be that the 'feel' of a place is a layering of different thing - history, geology, architecture and the way in which local people interpret their city. And it's this last point that Hillier - and Abdelbaseer A. Mohamed who writes of Hillier's ideas - are trying to grasp, to get across to us. If you want your city to feel right, it's not a question of grand design but of small things done with and by local people.


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