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Old January 8th, 2015, 07:56 PM   #1
deckard_6
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General discussion on urban centres

I would like to start a thoughtful discussion on urban centres based on the theoretical framework and existing cases of polycentric cities.

The following questions I find especially interesting and relevant for the discussion:

1-What makes an area in a city or metropolitan area a centre?
2-How do non-historical centres become outstanding urban areas within cities and metropolitan areas?

As an example and starting point for the discussion, I always thought of Brentford, Croydon and Stratford as the urban areas within Greater London with the highest potential to become future outstanding metropolitan centres.

Brentford:


Great West Road by ianwyliephoto, on Flickr

Croydon:


East London Line train at West Croydon by Kake Pugh, on Flickr

Stratford:


Stratford skyline silhouette by London From The Rooftops, on Flickr

However, the transformations of both Croydon and Stratford towards this end seem to be way ahead that of Brentford. What does in your opinion Brentford lack in order to become an outstanding metropolitan centre? Why is it lagging behind Croydon and Stratford in such transformation?

I'm looking forward to reading your comments on this subject!
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Old January 8th, 2015, 10:35 PM   #2
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One factor to be considered it that there's an enormous gulf between the extensiveness of rail links at Stratford and Croydon, as compared to the sparse options at Brentford:


Stratford on the London rail map




Croydon on the London rail map




Brentford on the London rail map





Even districts like Lewisham and Woolwich in south east London are far ahead of Brentford as urban centres, partly owing to their extensive transport links.
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Old January 10th, 2015, 02:54 PM   #3
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Thanks for participating in this discussion SE9!

Transport options are definitely a factor influencing the development of metropolitan centres, and as you very well pointed out Brentford's rail extensiveness does not help the area to outstand within Greater London. In fact, the whole Southwestern London's rail system seems to have received little investment as compared to North and East London.

Taking transport options as a decisive factor for the development of metropolitan centres, we would consider Ealing Broadway, Richmond or Wimbledon as the areas in Western/Southwestern London with the highest potential towards this end. However, I still consider the strip from Syon Lane to South Acton/Acton Town as an area with great potential due to other characteristics, including its size, the availability of land for construction, its natural amenities (Rivers Thames and Brent, Royal Botanic Gardens, Gunnersbury and Richmond Parks), sightseeings (Great Conservatory, Royal Botanic Gardens and its temperate houses, National Archives, Kew Palace) and the large availability of office spaces in the Chiswick Park and around Boston Manor.

This brings me back to the first question in my first post: what makes an urban area a centre?

Another factor we have not considered so far is shopping options. A paradigmatic example of how this factor can help an area to gain importance within a metropolitan area is that of White plains in New York.

White Plains:


City of White Plains by Westchester County Film Locations, on Flickr

After World War II some famous New York-based branch stores opened in White Plains to supply the growing pool of customers in Northern New York metropolitan area. The area soon became the house of many major corporations such as PepsiCo, IBM, Nestlé and at least 50 other Fortune 500 companies. Nowadays the population of White Plains continues to grow and is considered one of the most dynamic areas in the whole New York metro.

But surely there are many other factors influencing the transformation of certain urban areas into outstanding metropolitan centres, of which the existence of universities and technology parks might be of especial relevance.
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Old January 17th, 2015, 04:11 AM   #4
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What do you mean by an urban center? I have seen that term used fairly often, but in many contexts. And many cases, it is anything but what I would consider a center.

My opinion on the matter is that an urban center is place that has become identified through the regional culture as a geographical reference point. I use this term because I have seen, and indeed used, urban center in a negative context, as in a dead or poor urban center.

Once could also use the term in a social context, where the urban center is a cultural gathering spot. In this context, an urban center is a quite fluid and mobile thing. For that matter, it only really works when there are common interests. Thus some cities develop a sprawless, centerless layout because there is no common social space. Ironically one could then argue that a city with little identified urban centers is actually a very diverse neighborhood.
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Old January 19th, 2015, 10:55 PM   #5
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Greater London needs to pick a place and make it a second Canary Wharf.

That way many projects can be consolidated into a specific area with good transportation links.

Sometimes I think if they couldn't do that beyond the green belt, in Milton Keynes, for instance. Or somewhere with easy access to Luton airport.
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Old January 24th, 2015, 08:35 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cloudship View Post
What do you mean by an urban center? I have seen that term used fairly often, but in many contexts. And many cases, it is anything but what I would consider a center.

My opinion on the matter is that an urban center is place that has become identified through the regional culture as a geographical reference point. I use this term because I have seen, and indeed used, urban center in a negative context, as in a dead or poor urban center.

Once could also use the term in a social context, where the urban center is a cultural gathering spot. In this context, an urban center is a quite fluid and mobile thing. For that matter, it only really works when there are common interests. Thus some cities develop a sprawless, centerless layout because there is no common social space. Ironically one could then argue that a city with little identified urban centers is actually a very diverse neighborhood.
To define an urban centre is indeed a very complex task. In order to simplify a bit this discussion I would rather see the whole thing from a different perspective:

Polycentricity is being fostered by public administrations in order to reduce commuting distances and thus reduce energy and time consumption. Polycentric cities are supposed to be more environmentally friendly, and all in all more efficient.

Commuting mostly takes place between one's place of residence and place of work or study. In western countries the role of the service economy has constantly increased in the last decades, with the consequence that places of work -mostly offices- concentrate in one or few areas within metropolitan areas, usually in the city centre. Especially in Europe, but as well in many other places around the globe, rising house prices in areas close to where office space concentrates make people commute longer distances.

Following you find some examples about this issue in London:

London's soaring house prices make a long commute a little more attractive

http://www.theguardian.com/money/201...cost-effective

A Day in The Life of 3 Million London Commuters, in 1 Minute



Overall, the goal of policies fostering polycentricity is to reverse this trend by supporting the concentration of office space in new areas outside the "traditional" city centre, and thus that people living and working/studying within a metropolitan area increasingly live closer and closer from their place of work/study.

However, such policies achieve in many cases little changes towards this end. A good analysis of the poor performance of policies fostering polycentricity is the one by Anne Aguilera on the three major French metropolitan areas, namely Paris, Lyon and Marseille:

GROWTH IN COMMUTING DISTANCES IN FRENCH POLYCENTRIC METROPOLITAN AREAS: PARIS, LYON AND MARSEILLE

https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/fil...RA_revised.pdf

According to Anne Aguilera:

Quote:
It has frequently been suggested in the literature that a polycentric distribution of employment and people shortens commuting distances because people locate within or close to their employment subcenter (colocation hypothesis). Having studied the three biggest French metropolitan areas over the last decade we have established that co-location affects only a minority of inhabitants, of whom there are fewer in 1999 than there were nine years earlier. Indeed, the majority of people living in a subcenter work outside their subcenter of residence. This situation was even more marked in 1999 than it was in 1990. In addition to this, the majority of jobs located in subcenters are held by non-residents who are generally living further and further from their place of work.
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Originally Posted by Roaming Girl View Post
Greater London needs to pick a place and make it a second Canary Wharf.

That way many projects can be consolidated into a specific area with good transportation links.

Sometimes I think if they couldn't do that beyond the green belt, in Milton Keynes, for instance. Or somewhere with easy access to Luton airport.
Following with the discussion above, the problem with sub-centres is whether people actually move closer to their working place or not. Which are the factors favouring co-location? Would people currently living in London be willing to move to Milton Keynes if offered a good job opportunity there?
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Old January 25th, 2015, 03:17 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deckard_6 View Post
Following with the discussion above, the problem with sub-centres is whether people actually move closer to their working place or not. Which are the factors favouring co-location? Would people currently living in London be willing to move to Milton Keynes if offered a good job opportunity there?
Hundreds of thousands of people commute beyond the Green Belt or M25 into inner London to work everyday.

Just look at trains coming to London terminals.

Or the motorways.

A secondary high-profile business financial center in Milton Keynes would cut short the commute of many who come to the City from points beyond Milton Keynes.

I picked Milton Keynes because it is a newer city without much heritage problems for additional massive development and good rail links.

Could be others.

The issue is whether top firms would locate in Milton Keynes.

That is the gamble.

When Canary Wharf was developed, many traditionalists told no respectable firm would ever locate near the Isle of Dogs or Poplar.

What a change in relatively little time!

Some though the City would alwys be the only prime market for financial office space.

Wrong...
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Old February 1st, 2015, 05:26 AM   #8
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I guess I still don't quite understand what the question is. Why do people live in one place and work in another? That comes down to social and economic factors, as well as preferences and needs and infrastructure. Financial Office needs are different from Industrial needs, which are very different from needs and wishes of people's needs for their homes and families.

For as long as we have had some kind of reliable transportation we have lived and worked in different places, the distances between those often dictated by transportation efficiency and geography. Ever since major cities have developed, designers and planners have sought some kind of utopian vision of a single neighborhood. But they have never achieved it. That is because there is no one answer that will please everyone. Even different people and different companies want and need different environments. One couple may love to live in the center of a thriving downtown, while a different family may find that intolerable and need to live further in the country. You might find places that can support two or more different groups, but you will never find a place that can be all things to all people.

Perhaps the issue is with an ill defined goal. From your last post it sounds like the goal is to reduce commuting distances. But what is the real purpose for that? You may reduce distances and time spent commuting, but you are going to have to put more money into infrastructure and improvements. The energy being saved is going to end up going into supporting higher densities. I think the answer to that question, at least, is to provide better transportation infrastructure.

If the issue is one more of redundancy (another words, the effect one small event can have on disruption the whole ecology), then really the answer is the very opposite of planning policies. A great example of that is cities in the lower southwest of the US. Few zoning laws has resulted in a very even spread of all needs. The problem there is that you cant make someone, or some company, only survive in one local area. So in the end everyone has to travel everywhere. To top it off, you you now have struggles between the needs and wants of different populations competing over the same space.
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Old February 2nd, 2015, 07:36 PM   #9
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I see your point Cloudship. I'll try to rephrase the question in order to make it more clear to everyone, even though this thread was not supposed to be about answering any specific question, but rather about discussing these same factors you're mentioning and their influence in the development of urban centres:

The benefits for firms from clustering within economic centres are many, the most important of them being probably the following:

-Proximity to customers
-Proximity to professional bodies
-Access to knowledge from competitors (spillovers) and support services
-Use of credible adresses as firm's brand

The main direct disadvantages from clustering are high real state costs and congestion, with the indirect effect of longer commuting distances and thus of higher time and energy consumption.

Most certainly reducing metropolitan energy consumption is not among the highest priorities for private firms, however they do care about real state costs and sometimes about congestion and commuting time consumption too. City planners, on the other hand, work to improve the region's time and energy efficiency and together with academics develop concepts such as "polycentricity", "sub-centres", and "co-location", amon others.

Thus, the issue is how to keep or even improve the advantages from the clustering of economic activities and at the same time minimize its disadvantages. As Roaming Girl argues, Canary Wharf or La Défense may well be examples of how that can be achieved, even though I haven't found any consistent analysis about commuting distances' changes before and after these CBDs were developed.

A different strategy to the one followed by city planners in Canary Wharf or La Défense could be to focus on relocating firms that might find disadvantges of clustering especially challenging. An example of such an strategy could be making available cheap office space in areas outside the city centre to technology start-ups. Successful start-ups may want to relocate to the city centre once they can afford it in order to benefit from a more credible address, or the new area may develop into a new tech hub and other companies in the city centre may start relocating there. But even if the last actually happens, this doesn't ensure entrepreneurs working in the new tech hub will move closer to their working place, for many other factors may influence that decision.
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Old February 3rd, 2015, 02:03 AM   #10
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I think I understand what you are saying. But again, I think you are assuming that there is an intentional process to clustering businesses in the city center and residential in the outer neighborhoods. Businesses tend to cluster in certain areas because the services and partner organizations are there. You alluded to start-ups locating in more run down areas where rent is cheaper. Their needs are different from big company needs.

What causes companies to choose certain locations is a big hodgepodge mixture of all kinds of things. Want to attract companies to a new location? Offer them better services and rents. But ultimately what are you gaining? People will still not be living in those locations, so they are still going to commute, only now to a different place, and you have multiple infrastructures to support. And if you have too many different places, people will now be traveling all over the place, you have to run pipes and wires and roads and tubes everywhere, and now you are swamped.

Real Estate costs are simply a function of demand and success. that works itself out dynamically as more and more companies can't afford the rents, they look for the next best up and coming place. That's what keeps cities alive. AS for the energy issue - you cant solve that by simple relocation. Eventually you will not only be stuck with the same situation in a few years, you now have more infrastructure to support. The way to address efficiency is by better design and planning for the future - making infrastructure expandable, flexible, and useful.

I guess, the question is - what are you really after? Are you really after the efficiency of transportation, or are you really just after how to create a new business or social center? Or, are you really after a way to combine business and social centers in one place?

Last edited by Cloudship; February 3rd, 2015 at 02:22 AM.
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Old February 5th, 2015, 01:42 PM   #11
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Clustering is more complicated than that.

It is a mix of prestige, professional networks etc.

Could a major bank relocate to Blackpool?

Yes, it could.

It would still make a lot of money.

Over time, though, it might be difficult to attract top workers to move from London to Blackpool.

Also, people like to mingle with others in their industry. Make contacts for future jobs etc.
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Old February 8th, 2015, 07:47 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roaming Girl View Post
Clustering is more complicated than that.

It is a mix of prestige, professional networks etc.

Could a major bank relocate to Blackpool?

Yes, it could.

It would still make a lot of money.

Over time, though, it might be difficult to attract top workers to move from London to Blackpool.

Also, people like to mingle with others in their industry. Make contacts for future jobs etc.
I think I've already mentioned most of these factors for clustering in my previous post, but I definitely agree with you that the reasons for clustering are not always predictable and therefore cannot be fully influenced by city planners.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cloudship View Post
I think I understand what you are saying. But again, I think you are assuming that there is an intentional process to clustering businesses in the city center and residential in the outer neighborhoods. Businesses tend to cluster in certain areas because the services and partner organizations are there. You alluded to start-ups locating in more run down areas where rent is cheaper. Their needs are different from big company needs.

What causes companies to choose certain locations is a big hodgepodge mixture of all kinds of things. Want to attract companies to a new location? Offer them better services and rents. But ultimately what are you gaining? People will still not be living in those locations, so they are still going to commute, only now to a different place, and you have multiple infrastructures to support. And if you have too many different places, people will now be traveling all over the place, you have to run pipes and wires and roads and tubes everywhere, and now you are swamped.

Real Estate costs are simply a function of demand and success. that works itself out dynamically as more and more companies can't afford the rents, they look for the next best up and coming place. That's what keeps cities alive. AS for the energy issue - you cant solve that by simple relocation. Eventually you will not only be stuck with the same situation in a few years, you now have more infrastructure to support. The way to address efficiency is by better design and planning for the future - making infrastructure expandable, flexible, and useful.

I guess, the question is - what are you really after? Are you really after the efficiency of transportation, or are you really just after how to create a new business or social center? Or, are you really after a way to combine business and social centers in one place?
Even if the concentration of local economic activity is greatly driven by market factors, this does not mean that city planners should not try to have an influence on it. Luckily public administrations in Europe have not been so keen on this kind of "let the invisible hand organise it" attitude towards city planning and hence most of us don't need to drive everyday 30 Km on a highway to get to work.

Additionally, and I guess this is a consequence of using a currently booming city like London as an example, cities will not grow forever and thus I don't see this scenario of a continuously expanding gentrification as realistic in the long term. At some point the population will stabilise and economic activity within the city will just re-organise itself into a more efficient scenario, hopefully a polycentric one in which people spend less time and consume less energy that they currently do in order to meet their needs.

A very interesting example of planned new centrality is the area around Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes in Barcelona.

http://thecompetitionsblog.com/results/057_01/

Following you find additional information about the current project being developed there and the strategy behind it:
http://arunjyotihazarika.wix.com/arc...structure/cebz
http://thecompetitionsblog.com/results/057_01/

Last edited by deckard_6; February 9th, 2015 at 12:08 AM.
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