Emergent Urbanism

Rediscovering Urban Complexity

A measure of urban connection

What does it mean for a city to be connected? And is there quality resulting from this property? Let's define the basic node of a city as a doorway. (Not necessarily a building. A single building can have many doorways to separate spaces.) A connection is the distance from this doorway to the next node, that is to say the next doorway. A well connected city is a city where the distance from doorway to doorway is minimized, since everything will be easily accessible from the public space.

Shopping malls have mastered this aspect of cities. They tightly connect boutiques which are long and narrow together, and place large stores at terminating vistas such that their bulk does not create a connective void. They have even restored the practice of kiosks, placing them in the largely unused central width of their interior street. Every effort is made to prevent holes from closed-down stores. Mall operators have found that when people run into such an absence of connection, they turn around, making a chunk of the mall unattractive and isolated. Since the mall exists to allow separate shops to benefit from each other's proximity, it is terrible business to have such a hole in the network.

The concept of the suburban shopping mall is a reactionary invention. When urban planners defined the new city as being strictly automobile-based, some clever businessmen found it worthwile to restore the city street as an enclosed megabuilding, (what Leon Krier would call a landscraper) offering the connective value of the traditional city to otherwise stranded suburbanites. And the only way they could slip it by the planning authorities was to wrap it around a massive shell of parking. As such, although the mall's interior street is an extremely well connected public space, once you exit that street the measure of connection drops close to zero. While you can walk in the mall from one doorway to another in a few seconds, to reach another doorway after leaving the mall may well take several minutes. (And you'll almost certainly need to take your car.)

The most basic thing a city can do to build connections is create sidewalks from doorway to doorway. Humans move on foot. Everything else is just a shortcut.

Further comment

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