Modality Environments: A Concept For Sustainability And Vitality In The Multi-Modal City

Stephen Read, Jorge Lopes Gil

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This paper reviews an idea of vital local high-street places with their walking spaces and economies founded in interfaces between neighbourhood and city (between walking and public transport/bicycle movement infrastructures). It then extends this idea to higher scales, considering interfaces between city and region, which have already been theorised as ‘mobility environments’ (Bertolini & Dijst 2003) focusing on places and modal transfer points in new regional cities of high mobility. High-streets and mobility environments are both central places and our way of describing them suggests a new definition of central places as interfaces between normative (but also technically-infrastructually supported) political spaces (neighbourhood, city and region). It also clarifies the role of scale in place theory and we will deal with this in a following paper. Here we introduce ideas of ‘modality places’ and ‘modality environments’. The ‘modality environment’ is concerned with areal and network transportation forms in whole fabrics and resulting conditions of sustainability and urbanity. Modality environments are understood in terms of transportation networks and the social and functional factors (like sustainability and urbanity) they produce. Modality environments are seen as lived environments built around movement infrastructure grids that distribute everyday urban functions. Ideally modality environments would be simple clear grids that distribute all or close to all the functions of everyday life so that a walking grid or a bicycle grid that gets adults to work, their children to school and includes shopping and recreation would be walking or bicycle modality environments. They would be expected to have high levels of direct visibility-legibility in the way urban elements present themselves to a mobile community. Modality environments would also include the central places (like high-streets or mobility environments like stations) at which people would transfer to other modality environments. We will use a notion of ‘movement culture’ to indicate the convergence of land uses and mobile communities mediated in information-rich networks. We are concerned first with how modality environments (for cycling or walking for example) may afford more sustainable lifestyles. We are concerned in addition with the ways they can be designed to include central places as zones of urbanity and vitality and as socially and culturally mixed centres. We start not with a principle of accessibility of/from nodes in an extensive space but with the idea that particular social and political territories (communities and polities) are already articulations of distinct modality environments. We demonstrate using the case of the Amsterdam metropolitan area.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 11th International Space Syntax Symposium (SSS 2017)
Place of PublicationLisbon
PublisherInstituto Superior Técnico
ISBN (Electronic)978-972-98994-4-7
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventXI SSS: 11th International Space Syntax Symposium 2017 - University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal
Duration: 3 Jul 20177 Jul 2017


ConferenceXI SSS: 11th International Space Syntax Symposium 2017


  • Modality environments
  • mobility environments
  • urban sustainability
  • urbanity
  • urban design


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