What are the factors that give a place value?

Little Green Street, Kentish Town, London: probably quite valuable. Image: Getty.

The value of place is simultaneously the most discussed and the least understood of all things. House prices used to be the leitmotiv of a million clichéd dinner parties – no more, I think – but what we mean by the value of an actual neighbourhood and what drives that value is not only little discussed. It has, until recently, barely even been studied.

Create Street’s new report, Beyond Location, tries to answer this question. We have taken advantage of new techniques for analysing values as well as the big data revolution. We have conducted a uniquely wide, data-rich analysis of every 2016 property sale in six English cities (London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle).

This has used open datasets to compute basic urban characteristics, such as street network connectivity, population density, amount of greenery, availability of different transport modes. The point of the analysis was not to investigate them separately, but together – and to permit city-wide conclusions and inter-city comparisons.

The findings – part predictable, part surprising – tell us much about the state of our cities. One thing they do show is that urban form really does matter in understanding value. Our models for urban form can predict up to 74 per cent of the official UK poverty index – the Index of Multiple Deprivation – and up to 54 per cent of sales values.

How do specific characteristics affect the value of a London property?

Our key findings include that more greenery is not always a good thing. The immediate presence of attractive greenery or high-quality parks can add huge value in many situations. However, at the city-wide level, the presence of more greenery can be associated with lower as well as higher value. What it is and how it is managed really matters. For example, in London, a home closer than average to a high-quality park costs, on average, 11 per cent (or £51,000) more than one that is not, holding everything else equal. However, in Liverpool, a home located closer than average to a high-quality park is worth, on average, 7 per cent (or £7,760) less. 

Land use and form also matters. We found significant relationships across the six cities between urban form and deprivation and value. Areas of high population and high areas of unbuilt land – for example, high-rise estates with lots of wide-open space – are less valuable and often associated with more deprived communities. This might be partly due to the history of post-war building but, after thirty years of right to buy, most people who can afford to choose continue to avoid this type of urban pattern

Population density and deprivation in London. Click to expand.

The heritage premium is more important than the new build premium. In every city studied, proximity to a listed building was associated with more additional value than the premium associated with a newly built home. A home closer than average to a listed building in London is worth 10.3 per cent (or £49,770) more than one that isn’t, holding everything else equal. The equivalent new build premium is only £8,795.

The findings also highlight a clear difference between London and the other British cities. Accessible income is driving an urban renaissance in London out of all proportion to that visible elsewhere in the UK. Walkable street-based networks or older properties have a value premium over other neighbourhoods which far exceeds that yet visible in other cities. Proximity to a listed building is associated with nearly seven times as much value premium in London as in the other cities studied.

Finally, diversity is valuable. Areas with more diversity of house types suffer from less deprivation. Areas with a more diverse offering of transport and amenities are normally worth more, other things being equal. Above average amenity diversity is associated with additional value in all cities studied.

Property value and connectivity in Newcastle. Click to expand.

Value is a fraught term. Extra value is not always a good thing – certainly not for everyone. In globally successful cities, spiralling house prices are forcing out existing communities. There are ‘sorting effects’, where the better off out-compete the less well-off for the best places.


The ultimate aim of this study therefore is to help developers to build and planners to permit more good places by understanding human preferences more richly.

One thing is for certain though. When it comes to understanding, and predicting, economic and social value, urban form and design really matters.

Alessandro Venerandi is a researcher and urban designer at Create Streets. He has recently completed his doctorate in urban sustainability and resilience at UCL. Beyond Location is available here.

 
 
 
 

Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.


School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.