Measuring the Value of Urban Realm Improvements

Broadmead in BristolBroadmead in Bristol

A Case Study – Bristol Broadmead


We all know, intuitively that pleasant urban environments can attract visitors, investors, retailers, shoppers and, in turn, stimulate activity, vitality and enhanced safety. However, the case for allocating funding to improve the quality of the urban realm can be less clear-cut. In a scarce funding environment, funders and Local Authorities are keen to understand the measureable benefits this type of investment can bring. Now, more than ever, funders will want to understand where the money is going and where it will be able to translate into definable benefits.

Drivers Jonas (DJ) and Colin Buchanan (CB) have developed a methodology for measuring and identifying changes as a result of investment in the urban realm. This is intended to help authorities make the case for investment and measure the benefits once the investment has been made.

The companies have worked together to develop this for a scheme in Bristol Broadmead.

The Bristol Study

The Broadmead Business Improvement District (BID) was set up to ensure that the existing main shopping street in Bristol (Broadmead) was well-placed to benefit from the opening of an adjacent retail scheme called Cabot Circus. There was a concern that Broadmead would be left behind in comparison to its new neighbour, which could lead to vacant units and a loss of activity. Therefore, with funding from South West of England Regional Development Agency (SWRDA), a scheme to improve the urban realm through new paving, planting, street furniture and lighting was planned, to create a better shopping environment and a more seamless transition between the new and existing retail areas.

SWRDA required monitoring before and after the scheme to assess the impact and the benefits of the works and to help understand how this type of investment impacts on retail areas and help direct future similar investment.

Baseline – 2008

A Baseline Study was completed by DJ and CB in Summer 2008. This collected key data before the works began, so that the impacts of the improvements could be assessed.  This covered two broad areas – Property and Urban Realm:

DJ measured the property issues such as:

  • Tenant mix and changes in representation;
  • Vacant units;
  • Changes in Rents and Capital values;
  • Comparison of changes with other parts of Broadmead; and
  • Retailer/investor perceptions.

CB considered the quality and use of the urban realm, including:

  • Pedestrian counts;
  • Walk speeds;
  • Pedestrian activity: identifying people standing or sitting in the area and dwell times, in order to understand the use of the area; and
  • Audit of the existing quality of the pedestrian environment using PERS (Pedestrian Environmental Review System), a scorecard system developed by TRL.

Review – 2009

The same data will be collected in Autumn 2009,  some 12 to 18 months after the completion of the works to assess the changes in these indicators and hence the impact of the public realm improvements. This will help provide an insight into how successful this funding has been in achieving its objectives. It will be interesting to identify benefits whilst gauging the effects of the recession.

The Historic Towns Forum Conference

Jodie Brooks from DJ and Nathalie Gay from CB will be speaking at the HTF Conference on the methodology applied at Bristol, some of the challenges and limitations of this sort of analysis (and how this can be addressed) and the findings from the initial study for Bristol.