Spatial research for improved community engagement and rationalisation of urban resources.
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Strathclyde
Unit of AssessmentArchitecture, Built Environment and Planning
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Built Environment and Design: Urban and Regional Planning
Studies In Human Society: Human Geography
Summary of the impact
Research on urban planning has influenced planning decisions and assisted
the Scottish Government and Local Authorities to maximise economic,
physical and social factors in city visioning, planning and design. The
private sector has received advisory and design training in
master-planning though advanced spatial modelling principles and user
engagement techniques; local authority planners have also been trained.
The research has contributed to a paradigm shift in city planning towards
place-making and community design, not just in Scotland but
internationally. This agenda is now established as mainstream in city
planning, and Scotland is regarded as a reference to best practice as
witnessed by the wide adoption of planning documents such as Designing
Places, Designing Streets, and in recent large scale developments such as
Tornagrain (around 4,000 new homes), Knockroon (around 750 new homes) and
Chapelton (around 8,000 new homes), which have used Strathclyde's
Physical, socio and economic planning for the future sustainability of
our cities, requires user-engagement and complex spatial
analysis/modelling of social profiles, economic activities, urban centres,
urban morphology and transport strategies/resources, to make the most
efficient use of increasingly limited resources. This involves combining
information on urban densities, transport channels, physical form, and
services to achieve location efficiency. The Urban Design Studies Unit
(UDSU) within the Department of Architecture conducts research in spatial
analysis and modelling, threshold values and design principles to support
and optimise planning decisions. Research from 1998 - 2013 carried out by
key researchers in UDSU into sustainable urban planning, combines
different aspects of physical, socio- and economic planning
Research on urban analysis and sustainable design, threshold values and
ecological footprints of urban models (Frey, Romice and Porta) is part of
the EPSRC CityForm Consortium. This work highlights the impact of movement
trends, energy patterns, and suburban retrofitting, around a polycentric
network of robust district cores, interlinked by main transport hubs. The
research has led to a new approach to physical planning, Plot Based
Urbanism [1,2], joining data on urban densities, transport, physical form,
services and urban centralities monitored and optimised by identified
thresholds (Porta, Romice). Research in urban morphology identified
significant patterns in the evolution of small towns in Scotland, and
linked these to their capacity to evolve and adapt to changes in economic
and social conditions. It also showed recurrent patterns in the structural
layouts of urban form at different scales and over time . Research in
spatial analysis and modelling (Porta, 2005-13) has demonstrated
correlations between urban centralities and urban forms, commercial
services and more recently, socio-/health-related factors in cities .
Multiple Centrality Assessment (MCA) links street centrality and the
potential of urban areas to support development and maximise investment —
economic, social and environmental . Whilst strongly encouraged by the
Government and now a compulsory feature of planning, user engagement in
design is still not effectively conducted. Based on the earlier research
findings detailed above UDSU developed and published a practical Handbook
with a multimodal approach to engage the public in decision-making in
urban regeneration, with a focus on neighbourhoods and management .
Key Researchers: The research was led by the following staff in
the Department of Architecture, University of Strathclyde: Sergio Porta,
Professor and director of The Urban Design Studies Unit (2009-2013);
Ombretta Romice, Senior Lecturer (2000-2013); H. W. Frey (retired, former
Senior Lecturer (1987-2006).
References to the research
1. Porta, S., Romice, O. R., Thwaites, K., & Greaves, M. (2007). Urban
sustainability through environmental design: approaches to time, people and
place responsive urban spaces. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415384803
Notes on quality: first formulation of the argument for Plot Based
Urbanism (PBU); substantially disseminated, confirmed through royalties.
2. Mehaffy, M., Porta, S., Rofè, Y. & Salingaros, N. (2010). "Urban
nuclei and the geometry of streets: the 'emergent neighborhoods' model".
In: Urban Design International. 15, 1, p. 22-46.
Notes on quality: Key reference in planning, accepted without
revisions by this prestigious International peer reviewed Journal.
3. Hart, L., Hooi, J., Romice, O., & Porta, S. (2010). Under the
microscope: 20 small towns in Scotland. Glasgow: University of
Strathclyde. Supported by Grant from Scottish Government
Notes on quality: This Scottish based study re-ignited interest in
potential of local character and form for economic regeneration; is widely
used as a reference in policy.
4. Porta, S., Latora, V., & Crucitti, P. (2011). The network analysis
of urban streets: a primal approach. In Thrift, N., Barnes, T., Peck, J.,
& Batty, M. (Eds.), Environment and planning. (pp. 247-276). London:
Sage Publications Ltd. ISBN: 9781446208083.
Notes on quality: seminal work offering the foundation of Multiple
Centrality Assessment (MCA), the modelling tool that allows a practical
mapping of centrality in street and networks urban spaces. The paper
appeared on EPB in 2006 and was selected in the 2012 collection of best
5. Porta S., Strano E, Venerandi A, Adam R, Romice O, Pasino P, Bianchi G
(2013). Multiple Centrality Assessment. In Urban Design, p. 12-14,
Notes on quality: Published by leading organisation of
professionals in planning, it advocates the potential of MCA against other
commercial planning tools i.e. Space Syntax. This platform is a key
showcasing opportunity for the profession in urban design.
6. Romice, O & Frey, H (2003) Communities in Action. The Handbook.
2003 Scottish Arts Council, ISBN: 0-9542926.
Notes on quality: extensively used by Glasgow Housing Association
(GHA) in housing projects in Glasgow.
Other evidence for quality of research (grants, patents etc.).
• UDSU's approach to master-planning (Ref 1) was developed on a
Leverhulme Trust grant (2008-10): "Experiential landscape: a socially
responsive approach to open space analysis"
• Assessment and new conceptual work on small towns and housing values
(Ref 3 and on-going work) for the Scottish Government was supported with
£25,000 in the period 2008-2013
• Communities in Action Handbook (Ref 6) was developed on a £64,000 grant
from Scottish Arts Council (2002-3).
• MCA concept and Platform (Refs 4,5) were developed from a £756,906
EPSRC Grant (GR/S20529 City Form, 2003-7; the Strathclyde portion of the
work was under Frey's guidance, and then developed further through a
£55,500 KTA Grant (2010-13) and a £30,000 contribution by a private
practice (Adam Architecture and Urbanism, AAU).
Details of the impact
Process/events from research to impact.
The Department of Architecture at the University of Strathclyde has close
links with Government, and with local and nationally recognised
architecture firms — working relationships that have been built up over
the past 10 years. Examples include the following:
- From 2008, Romice has been a member of the Glasgow Urban Design Panel,
tasked by the Glasgow City Council (GCC) with making recommendations on
development proposals in the city at a preliminary or planning
application stage; her research directly informs the advice to the
- The housing manager for the Glasgow Housing Association (GHA), the
largest social housing provider in Scotland, is an active promoter of
the use of the Communities in Action Handbook since 2003.
- Work on urban centralities is ongoing through a KTA with a private
firm, Adam Architecture and Urbanism, and is used in commercial
master-planning. A new modelling platform will be launched in 2013 as a
joint venture between Adam Urbanism, the Architecture department and
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.
- Romice organised the 22nd International Association
People-Environment (IAPS) Conference on the relation between research,
practice and policy-making in the built environment (June 2012). With
over 450 delegates, the event contributed to the dissemination of
Strathclyde's research and its re-alignment with practice. Over 50 staff
from local authorities and professional practice attended as part of
their Continued Professional Development (CPD).
Types of Impact
Impact on policy and planning: Research on spatial analysis and
modelling has influenced sections of Glasgow City Council's (GCC) City
Plans and housing policies (Sources A and B) between 2009-10. A strategic
partnership with Glasgow City Council was established to develop
strategies for key areas in Glasgow. Modelling of the centrality of public
open spaces monitors and predicts public usage and behaviour in space, and
was used to target investment in urban renewal. In reference to the
Strathclyde research, The Head of Planning and Building Control, Glasgow
City Council, has commented, "Glasgow City Council values the
opportunity of applying the latest and most valuable research in the
development of its policies". (Source C)
Scottish Government has used the research in urban morphology for
sustainable development and assessment of the vitality of small Scottish
towns. Glasgow City Council, Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) and private
practice have used the Urban Design Studies Unit's user engagement
approach to assess the potential for development of sites of strategic
importance to the city and its surroundings. Recent large scale
developments such as Tornagrain (around 4,000 new homes), Knockroon
(around 750 new homes) and Chapelton (around 8,000 new homes) have used
Strathclyde's master-planning techniques. Furthermore, the Plot-Based
Urbanism approach to master-planning has been used as a development model
by architectural practice and policy-makers and supported by many small
consultancy commissions, for example:
- Research on street centrality along the Glasgow Riverfront, through
simulation of redistribution of public infrastructure and retail was
used in the Govan Local Development Strategy (part of City Plan
2 Source B).
- Research on the East End of Glasgow sponsored by GCC, a local
developer and a local trust, disseminated through public exhibitions,
public debates and local newspapers was instrumental for the Barras
and Calton Local Development Framework, part of City Plan 2
(Source B), which has been granted funding by GCC for the regeneration
of the area and was used as guidance in the Calton Town Centre
- Research on the future of the M8 motorway in Glasgow and its impact on
accessibility of surrounding areas (e.g. Sighthill), commissioned by GCC
and GHA, and is now used in the Sighthill Access Design Statement
and Sighthill Transformation Area (Source D).
- Research on Cumnock growth scenarios is used by East Ayrshire Council
in the Main Issues Report and informs the forthcoming East
Ayrshire Local Plan (2013). The Development Planning and
Regeneration Manager, East Ayrshire Council confirms that "The
Planning and Economic Development service has been able to utilise the
research work at Strathclyde, specifically the study of street
centrality and the use of innovative approaches to master planning, in
the preparation of its Main Issues Report and replacement Local Plan
in relation to Cumnock" (Source E).
Involvement of community groups and housing organisations in planning
decisions: The Strathclyde research was used to develop methods of
supporting community engagement and user participation in design, with the
intention of removing traditional barriers in communication between lay
people and `experts'. Commissioned by the Scottish Arts Council, a
step-by-step Handbook was produced to help local neighbourhood groups
develop scenarios, prioritise intervention, draft design requirements and
select professionals. This Handbook has been used since 2008 by Glasgow
Housing Association to generate consensus around design commissions, is
available online, and was updated in early 2013 with GHA. The Development
Manager, GHA has stated: The UDSU research [...] "has provided an
essential resource of emerging techniques and academic rigour in the
activities of community engagement, master planning and urban analysis
to both the staff of GHA operating in the regeneration directorate, and
to the external consultants employed by it" (Source F).
Development of resources to enhance professional practice:
Research by the Urban Design Studies Unit on the urban form of Scottish
small towns, in relation to economic and social factors, has been used to
develop policies in place-making, design and place assessment guidance,
and public consultation approaches. In 2010, Architecture + Design
Scotland (A+DS) set up a team with UDSU to formalise Plot Based Urbanism
into an adoptable planning approach for Scottish sustainable development
(2012-13). Since 2009, A+DS have commissioned studies from the UDSU
researchers on small Scottish towns, and recently commissioned an
assessment tool for housing developments, for forthcoming housing policy:
The Head of Urbanism, Architecture + Design Scotland confirms that "The
University of Strathclyde material has been invaluable in shaping a
narrative to engage a series of stakeholders in making tangible a set of
propositions around change. In this context, the key impacts are policy
focused, which will direct investment and implementation". (Source
UDSU has developed a KTA collaborative project with one of the largest
urban design and architecture practices in the UK (Adam AU), which has a
large national and international portfolio of projects. AAU has been
critical in developing a commercially applicable `Multi Centrality
Assessment Platform' for planning which simulates and compares the
potential success of urban areas. This tool can influence planning and
optimise investment, attracting designers (to whom it adds financial
evidence to services), and clients (who reduce risk in committing
resources). The Director at AAU has commented: "Adam Urbanism has
engaged with the University of Strathclyde Urban Design Unit with
research projects at different levels, from assisting with thesis
[projects] that are directly relevant to our work to joint working on
significant research projects". And in reference to community
consultation and MCA: "... It is impossible to give quantitative
figures ... Suffice to say that the considerable investment we have
given to the project is a reflection of the values of the expansion of
our knowledge base" (Source H).
Provision of Training for Local authorities and the Scottish
Government: The close partnership with Glasgow City Council has also
involved training of council employees, so they can apply the research
methodology in practice. The educational model is strongly related to
research, and GCC staff have applied innovative approaches to space
assessment, modelling and urbanism since 2008 in Nitshill, Sighthill,
Calton and the Barras areas of Glasgow, the Forth and Clyde Canal, and
more recently Govan, where it is being applied to argue for the strategic
upgrade of Govan town-centre.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Designing Streets policy (2010)
Glasgow City Plan 2 (2009)
C. Statement from Head of Planning and Building Control, Glasgow City
Key regeneration areas in the North of Glasgow, Sighthill and Maryhill.
E. Statement from Development Planning and Regeneration Manager, East
F. Statement from Development Manager, Glasgow Housing Association
G. Statement from Head of Urbanism , Architecture + Design Scotland
H. Statement from Director, Adam Urbanism