Impacts of improved public realm infrastructure

Impacts of improved public realm infrastructure

Governments and local authorities invest millions in public realm projects to make city centres and other shared spaces more attractive.

These projects increasingly include, or are driven by, active travel infrastructure, aimed at increasing the numbers of people cycling and walking and reducing the use of cars. While there is some limited evidence that attractive places with certain characteristics can support economic development, foster interaction and improve people’s health and wellbeing, robust evaluation and measurement of the impacts of these types of public realm interventions have been limited due to a lack of available data and methods. The use of new forms of big data in combination with more traditional methods (both quantitative and qualitative) opens up possibilities for the evaluation of large public realm infrastructure projects.

The Enabling Infrastructure - Integrated Public Realm (EIIPR) in the Scottish city of Glasgow is one such ambitious scheme; a £115 million investment to make “the city more attractive, "people-friendly", and economically competitive” through major improvements to infrastructure. The phased project will increase pedestrian/cycle space, improve lighting, reduce street clutter, and introduce trees and soft planting on city centre streets. This project will use a combination of innovative data sources in conjunction with more traditional data and methods to measure changes in walking, cycling, space usage, retail activity, and housing costs. This will provide not only a better understanding of the impact of Glasgow’s EIIPR, but wider understanding of the potential of these types of interventions. The project will also create a methodology for analysis of future infrastructure investment of this sort.

Aims and Objectives

This project sets out to examine the wider impacts of improved public realm infrastructure that includes investment in active travel, aimed at place making but also in changing travel patterns in city centres. The project, while concerned with increases in active travel, is also interested in other impacts that may occur as a result of changes, such as increasing retail activity or changes in house prices. The project would look widely at the impact the infrastructure changes have on a number of dimensions (social, environmental, economic and design). Recent advances in big data used in conjunction with traditional methods create opportunities to measure impact in these dimensions.

This project seeks to:

  • Evaluate the impact of Glasgow’s EIIPR in a number of dimensions.
  • Develop an understanding of how new sources of data can be combined to create a more robust understanding of these types of interventions.
  • Look for opportunities to recreate similar evaluations in other cities to add weight to our understanding of evaluating public realm projects.


The results of this research will inform the future implementation of public realm projects, providing knowledge of probable outcomes from different approaches to these types of infrastructure changes. The team will engage with policy makers and professionals to ensure the lessons from this research are learned. This will be done through networks like the ESRC-funded UK collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE).

This a long-term project, involving significant investment over a five-year period. The research team will work with the Glasgow City Council to produce ongoing results that will have the potential to inform the project as it rolls out the different stages.


Lead: Dr. Mark Livingston
Team: Dr. David McArthur, Dr. James White (Co-Investigator at CaCHE)

Jointly funded by