So just what should we build? A call for evidence - RSA

Blog: So just what should we build? A call for evidence


  • Picture of Nicholas Boys-Smith FRSA
    Nicholas Boys-Smith FRSA
    Founding Director of Create Streets
  • Housing
  • Public services

Housing is the current cri du coeur of much of British politics. Peoples’ passion for their homes, deeply opposing views on social housing, and international capital are making development an increasingly difficult issue. This is occurring against the current urbanisation trend whereby more and more people are moving to cities. Nicholas Boys-Smith, FRSA wants your views on where and how we accommodate these new city dwellers.

Current policies and land prices are pushing developers to build large and high. Although studies suggest that a dense urban fabric is associated with better wellbeing and economic performance, it is still not clear what shape this density should take; should this be translated in towers, terraced houses, a mixed of both or something different?

In terms of economic value, research suggests that towers do not seem to perform well in the long term. Maintenance costs are higher and their ‘market’ seems to be more limited. If this is not the correct way to deliver density, what are the alternatives? What house typologies and elements of the built environment shall we consider to build for long-term value? What other considerations should we take into account? An aging population? The need for more sustainable communities and homes? Our aim is to find an answer for these questions. 

My organisation, Create Streets, has been guided by the RSA’s Public Services and Communities team in pursing impactful research in order to inform policy. To this end, we plan to explore this issue in more detail by investigating the relationship between different built forms and their values over time. This evidence will support our campaigns, which share the RSA’s goal to shift power to communities in the way cities are developed. Our research will have three strands.

First, we will explore the theory behind this issue: What do we mean by the value of a place? The notion of value has multiple levels, from the relatively simple (for example, the value of real estate), to the hugely complicated (for example, the economic value added and what is the impact over time?). Second, we will build on the work already done in this area. A literature review will explore what the exiting evidence tells us and draw on existing researchers from different sectors around this subject. Third, we will undertake primary research. This will probably use UK data to help us to better understand the link between urban form and value.

Through these three strands of work, we hope to build a wider and more scientifically sound understanding of what urban form performs best with respect to long term value. We hope that this will then inform and influence the UK housing debate.

We are keen for Fellows of the RSA or readers of RSA Comment to help us to guide our research by sharing past and present evidence and suggesting relevant experts we should be engaging with. In particular, we are looking for existing evidence or experts who can help us to answer our central questions:

  • What do we mean by value of a place?
  • How do we measure this value? Does it correspond just to the value of the real estate or are there more ways to interpret it?
  • How do we measure urban form? Three well-known examples are built density, levels of mixed use and accessibility. Are there others, relevant for this study?
  • Are you aware of any studies (academic or not), which have looked at the relationship between urban form and its economic value? Or which have explored this relationship over a time span?
  • Are you aware of any accessible datasets that contain information regarding urban form and values of properties?

Thank you in advance for any evidence or ideas that you can send through. We would be particularly grateful for any evidence sent through by April 15th. Please send them to [email protected]. In addition, Create Streets is organising a roundtable evidence discussion on 15 March 2016, in Central London. Please e-mail Alessandro at [email protected] if you might be interested in coming.


Nicholas Boys Smith is the founding Director of Create Streets and has lectured on Create Streets’ findings at several British and US universities as well as a wide range of events. He is a Commissioner of Historic England, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham and sits on the Government’s Estate Regeneration Panel.

Be the first to write a comment


Please login to post a comment or reply

Don't have an account? Click here to register.