What's the problem?
There's no shortage of good city design case studies on the web - the problem is that they're all fragmented into several databases and it's difficult to find relevant case studies.
A selection of existing databases:
http://www.cabe.org.uk/case-studies - large database of case studies of buildings, parks and other places in the public realm
www.sustainablecities.dk - a database of sustainable places and practices maintained by the Danish Architecture Centre
http://showcase.hcaacademy.co.uk - case studies maintained by the HCA Academy
http://www.urbandesigncompendium.co.uk/CaseStudySearch.aspx - case studies form part of the Urban Design Compendium
http://www.rudi.net/pages/8026 - a collection of in-depth case studies of various projects
http://www.greatstreets.org/MainStreets/MainStreetsProfiles.html - case studies of great streets
http://www.designforhomes.org/hda/ - a database of award-winning housing schemes
http://www.housingprototypes.org/ - a more technical database of housing types
http://www.archive2.official-documents.co.uk/document/deps/cs/shdg/cases/index.html - case studies in the Sustainable Housing Design Guide for Scotland
http://www.sust.org/?view=49&parent=4 - case studies of sustainable buildings in Scotland
http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/codecasestudies - case studies of houses built using the Code for Sustainable Homes
http://www.academyofurbanism.org.uk/ - are developing an online resource called 'knowyourplace' - which is described as a 'place-based equivalent to facebook'.
Many of the databases above are publicly funded and were created with the best of intentions, but collectively there is a missed opportunity to create a really useful resource.
An open, public database
In order to build a critical mass of information, where it would become really useful, we feel that a database would need to be open for anyone to add to it.
In an ideal world, there would be a single database - probably in an open, flexible XML format - where attributes such as the number of dwellings, number of people, or the type of project would be stored in a way that makes it easy to search.
Let's say you wanted to look for good examples of sustainable developments of a group of about 5 houses in the UK.
Ideally you would able to go to just one website, set the number of houses and the UK as search parameters, and get a list of results.
If the database contained geographic locations, then links to resources such as Microsoft's birds eye view, Google Maps and Streetview would allow you to explore places further and get a real sense of what the place is like.
As a simple example of the kind of thing we're talking about, we've built our own prototype database of urban spaces in the world - allowing users to search for spaces by geometry (size and shape) and using the Google Maps API to display an aerial photo of the space - www.holisticcity.co.uk/urbanspaces So for example, if you're working on a masterplan which has a rectangular public space of about 0.4ha, you can search our database and find examples of spaces of the same size and shape. (please note this is just a prototype - it's not possible to add any data to it at the moment).
What should the database contain?
The structure of the database would need to be flexible, and would need to be worked out in consultation with a wide range of people.
The following are just first thoughts:
Name of feature.
Contributor - name and link to their website. (In particular we'd encourage architects to submit projects they have worked on - it's an opportunity to promote their projects and they will also have data easily available, such as the number of different types of dwellings.)
Type of feature: eg. City, Neighbourhood, Housing, Street, Park, Masterplan, Town Centre, Policy Initiative
Attributes such as population, no. of houses, no. of flats, area, shape, length, width, diameter, and other technical information - costs, timings, densities etc. For public spaces, ideally coordinates of a polygon describing the space should be included - this would allow it to be imported directly into design software applications. We could incude a web interface allowing users to quickly draw the outline of a public square on top of Google Maps.
There would be a single website where these attributes could be used as search criteria. Alternatively, anybody would be free to create their own pages, and access and filter the data in new ways.
• For example, you could search for examples of neighbourhoods in the
UK with a net residential density of between 35 and 40 dwellings per
• You could search for all housing developments of between 3 and 7 houses which contain at least one house achieving Level 5 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.
• You could search for examples of a rectangular public space measuring about 20m x 40m.
But what about the existing case studies on websites?
Some of the websites mentioned above have spent a lot of money preparing their case studies, and may be reluctant to contribute their data for free.
One option might be to only contribute basic details to the public database, and then provide a link to more detailed information on their own website. This way they could benefit from the extra traffic that searches could bring, while contributing to the larger database and helping to make it a really useful resource for everyone.
One some websites the data is already available to the public, and we're suggesting that it is re-entered in a form where it can be more easily searched.
In any event, each item in the database should include a link to where the information came from, to provide recognition and encouragement to contributors.
Why are you posting this now?
We're interested in the idea of starting a really useful, user-generated database to help everyone involved in city design, planning and development, and we wanted to share these thoughts for two reasons:
1. To ask for any comments and feedback on the idea.
2. To ask if anyone's already thought of this and has started making it already.
I don't know yet if this is something we will fund ourselves, or whether someone else (like a forward-looking public regeneration agency) might be interested in supporting it.
In any event, at this stage we'd be grateful for any comments and thoughts. Please reply to this post, or you can contact me at email@example.com