The networked central social districts

By: Ar. Joel Luna
3 days ago

| PHOTO: Make it Makati

An exciting evolution has taken place in the metro in recent decades: the emergence of social districts.

We see these compact, high-density, mixed-use neighborhoods, which have a strong focus on shopping, dining and entertainment, on the fringe of the more traditional central business districts (CBDs) of Makati, Bonifacio Global City and Ortigas, as well as Rockwell, Eastwood , Uptown Bonifacio, Capitol Commons and many others.

These activity nodes are often no larger than 20 ha. They serve as counterparts to the larger business districts to which they are functionally and geographically attached, providing social and recreational venues that bring life to urban centers on weekends and after-hours.

Emergence of social districts

How these social neighborhoods have grown in number in recent years is equally fascinating. They provide commute-work-play destinations within the larger business realm of our CBDs – sub-districts of larger districts. They compete in the production of new urban spaces, but somehow have a symbiotic relationship with CBDs and with each other.

They have evolved organically within the metro, responding to market signals, with each node competing for location primacy. They also have one thing in common: an outdoor orientation that has allowed these venues not only to thrive during the pandemic, but also to serve as de facto public spaces.

The result is a polycentric configuration in which independent districts organize themselves into a hierarchical system of nodes that form a networked metropolis. These neighborhoods form a patchwork of compact, commercial hubs connected to the larger CBD by mobility corridors (roads, transit or proximity). Symbolically, they also draw on the identity and energy of the greater CBD. Everyone thrives because of this nested structure. For example, what is Rockwell without Makati CBD, or Capitol Commons without Ortigas Center?

Microcosm of the subway

Each neighborhood or node is a mirror and a microcosm of the metropolis. They are functionally self-similar mixed-use buildings in mixed-use districts in mixed-use cities, emphasizing the fractal nature of urban areas. It is fascinating to see that beneath the complexity and chaos of our metropolis lies a subtle underlying structure – nodes nestled within larger nodes in an entwined web of links.

BGC itself has evolved into a central social district, evidenced by the high pedestrian traffic it enjoys even on weekends. But even BGC has several sub-districts, each a social hub that builds on the larger township, creating a multitude of destinations.

This feature can provide insights for real estate development. For example, how do you determine which of these neighborhoods offers the best location? Thinking of the city as a network, we can then apply the principles of network dynamics when assessing the relative value of each location.

A hierarchical structure

It has long been known that urban spatial systems tend to follow principles of ranking.

For example, urban mobility follows a hierarchical structure where commuters move between high-capacity, long-distance regional modes of transport (commuter trains, buses) and local modes of transport (tricycles or walking). people. A district or node that is connected to a link higher in the hierarchy (connected to regional transport routes and multiple modes of transport) is more valuable than a district or node that is only connected to small links (only accessible by local transport or via a single mode of transport ). ie cars).

Being a networked system, any change in one link can also cause cascading effects on the rest of the network. Introducing a transport hub or making a major street car-free can change the dynamics between hubs, strengthening some and potentially weakening others.

Generate value

Ultimately, the value of nodes is determined by the number of links connected to them and the value of sub-nodes is determined by the connection to larger nodes. This is essentially Metcalfe’s law applied in urban spatial structuring.

But despite this self-evident principle, there are developments that do not recognize this. Many suburban townships try to emulate the success of metropolitan urban centers by focusing specifically on destination creation, neglecting the importance of the connections that would make such destinations grow in significance.

Without these connections, these townships become isolated hubs with limited capture and synergy. Speculative interest, government pressure, or the strength of the developer’s brand may spur early investment in these townships, but the realization and growth of an actual mixed-use city will ultimately depend on the robustness of its connections to larger metropolitan areas.

Understanding how cities function as networks can influence many decisions in the real estate industry – from buyers and companies looking for the right address, to developers looking to improve the competitiveness of their projects, to government agencies looking to prime and promote certain areas, to investors who are looking for properties that can provide the best return in the long term.

Ultimately, it’s about getting the most value out of a particular location. This can be achieved through strategies that take advantage of cities’ networked systems.

The author is founder and director of JLPD, a master planning and consultancy practice. Visit

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