Boosting city efficiency, mobility and sustainability world-wide
world nodal diagram
Cities tend to be reduced for simple comprehension to the idea of a busy central area surrounded by urban areas demarcated by wealth, or lack of it, and function. As cities expand into mega-cities with over ten million habitants this understanding no longer serves well for the inhabitants and neither does justice to the city's international standing. The idea has been to focus on the discovery that cities have numerous sub-centres of vibrant city life, diverse in their character and thriving in their local economies. They span every part the entire city. These places, known primarily by locals, need to be revealed for business, transport, government and visitors. Traditional means fail to identify these social hubs. The action has been to carry out new surveys by visiting everywhere in the city to find, to name and to characterise every centre. The aim is to set positive feedback loops operating by focusing investment, transport services and education which in turn make them more sustainable and increase the efficiency of the city overall. Positive effects should include the reduction in car journeys, and increasing the mobility though greater use of public transport on a more sustainable basis leading to ahealthier city environment.


Naturally evolving town and village centres have been successful constructs of societies for millennia. Urban centres have simply become side-lined by the power of the city centre. They can be blind to the general perception, hidden by conventional mapping and often fail to be stated in current information systems. The worst case is where areas have become abandoned to become no-go zones. If human interaction is to be encouraged right across the city then people need a better interpretation of the city. It is about revealing a city's existing assets.

As a result of surveying bus passengers across London, there was a growing realisation that beyond the central area there are scores of thriving centres with shops, commerce and entertainments. Essentially it is the experience of surveying centres in a complete city of 8 million in population which has brought new insights into understanding the place centric structure of cities.

different approach

The predominance of road maps and particularly American internet maps, have tended to obliterate urban centres in favour of detailed business locations complete with street views. Current understanding favours car journeying which often ignore centres and, indeed, encourage the bypassing of centres. At the same time, conventional perceptions often unfairly render urban hinterlands as non-descript grey areas with roads. These effects lead to lost places. A sense of place location can be strengthened by locating, by naming and by defining characteristics

There is an acknowledgement needed of the numerous busy centres across a city urban-scape. They are social focal points and their vibrancy can be enhanced by widespread knowledge of their existence. Reinforcement can be improved though cartography, digital geographic positioning, consistent naming via gazetteers and description. Surveying to experience the popular centres reveals that they can be given a clear geographic map reference.

This approach has been implemented across London, Glasgow and Hong Kong. The geography of these cities is dominated by the central city area, then the regional centres and followed by the numerous, and often forgotten, smaller centres. Urban perception tends to be based around known local centres what-ever the size. For this reason the work already undertaken has found it better to assign centres a closer uniformity so smaller places don't fall off the perception map. The exception is the central city area where centres can divert to focal points of transport interchanges. These centres are called city-places.

Some direct results from ground surveying are:
London = 354 city-places plus 40 central centres population 8.2 million
Greater Glasgow = 48 city-places plus central area population 1.2 million
Hong Kong Island = 46 city-places plus central area population 1.3 million


Better and wider knowledge of an area brings greater social and economic interaction. This is good for a healthy and vibrant city, and can draw attention to lesser-known places with subsequent benefits of growth and importance and the reduction of car-bound travel. From a research project by Glasgow University users given a map based around centres became more aware of not just their known local centre but the surrounding centres and how to travel to them through the place network.


The local mobility within every city-place is inherently sustainable on foot and cycle, by the nature of its convenience of accessibility. Knowing this mobility options can be switched where many current local journeys are made by car, bus and motorcycle for reasons of distance, weather, social standing, dispersed layout and terrain.

Much can be made of increasing transport efficiency and sustainability by looking at the connectivity of multiple city-places rather then simply city centre to other city centres.

end of the grey urban mass

Across urban London the endless repetition of urban buildings have been replaced by indicating vibrant centres of economic and human activity that are well worth searching out. This generates a need to know about transport connectivity between places and, as such, a positive mental map of place has been created that can be shared with others.

impact on the urban environment

The impact of a different way of city realisation will take time. As confidence in local centres increases more people are likely to visit and more business is likely to be done. This can't be bad! It is hoped that by focusing on city-place centres and opening them up the world, they will develop a self re-enforcing momentum. Adding a layer of city-places on internet mapping will help re-focus urban investment.

global vision

The vision is to cover all the world's urban areas and particularly the ones with negative connotations. The work should straddle all areas irrespective of wealth including slums, industrial places and no-go zones. Cities like Karachi, São Paulo, Wuhan, Cairo, Los Angles, Tokyo and Manila potentially can be transformed into places that people live, work and socialise within their own distinct characters and be represented in a positive way to the outside world. There is no limit to the benefits of re-interpreting all major cities and particularly megacities. As cities become evermore globally connected, more people will be visitors and many people will become visitors in their own cities!

Global results would help boost investor confidence in focusing their plans on city urban areas leading to the overall improvement of liveability in cities. On introducing the idea to a Google business developer he stated most positively that if it increases business then Google would be interested.


The work represents a change in the perception of the cities and its inhabitants. No organisation has offered to tackle this opportunity with the same deep commitment and foresight as the authors. The team has the persistence, enthusiasm and admiration of local people to successfully run a project for the re-discovery of the thriving urban places around the world.


'Luton Culture are excited by the opening-up of an understanding of urban centres.' Fahim Qureshi, Community Engagement Manager.

'The project puts cultural intensity at the forefront. It's a simple idea, but a profound shift in the way we depict, experience and navigate the city.' Greg Keeffe, Professor of Sustainable Architecture, Queens University, Belfast.

'What an interesting concept.' Dr. Graham P. Alabaster, United Nations Human Settlements Programme.Nairobi, Kenya
world nodal diagram
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