As part of my MRes at UCL’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, in our Digital Visualisation module in groups we were set the challenge of visualising a ‘Living City’.

We created UCLive, a 3D augmented reality app of the UCL campus which gives the users location, building information and incorporates live data such as twitter and computer availability across the campus.

See our group blog on the project here.

Villareal, Light Show

I recently visited the Light Show at the Haywood Gallery, my favourite piece was Cylinder II by Leo Villareal (pictured above), made up of 19,600 LED lights creating endlessly changing patterns. The info-blurb next to the artwork explained the piece is controlled and composed by complex computer programming. Another thought provoking piece, Monument by Jenny Holzer was a tower of semicircular LED elements stacked one above the other featuring texts from declassified US gov documents.

I am currently studying for a Masters in ‘Advanced Spatial Analysis and Visualisation’ at UCL and at the moment we are completing a module in ‘Digital Visualisation’, so the pieces interested and inspired me as within our research we are using computer programming to display and analysis information. Within the module we are studying various methods of visualising geospatial data from programming to 3D city visualisations using game engines to modelling.

Coming from a social science research background, albeit having used and taught GIS professionally I was a coding beginner so have been on a steep learning curve with Processing. It does make me reflect that I wish coding had been taught at my school and I hope that in the future this will be the case (see Wired and Forbes).

Here are a few visualisations I have made using Processing software during the module:

Cycle Hire Bikes in London on Christmas Day

Our Processing lecturer, Martin Zaltz Austwick gave us some TFL data from Boris/Barclays Cycle Hire Bikes for Christmas Day. In this visualisation, the size of circle shows the duration that people have taken the bike out for, its location is the start point of the bike. I am hoping to add a key, geographic landmarks and a time counter to this. In the meantime the changing background from blue to pink represents morning to night and the map below of London Local Authorities helps to show where the points are.

Map of local authorities and bike start points

Modelling – Cellular Automata

In addition to showing geo-spatial data (and its numerous other uses), Processing can also be used to model both cellular automata and agent based models. We were tasked with adding geographical boundaries to a cellular automata model. The models below are predator-prey cellular automata models, the first video shows a river boundary with a bridge and the latter represents an island boundary.

Over the next few weeks I will be investigating City Engine, 3D Max and Unity as we have a group assignment to build a ‘living 3D city’, watch this space!

The Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant outside Reykjavik is (perhaps surprisingly) ranked as “one of the greatest tourist destinations in Iceland, and probably one of the best showcases for geothermal power generation”.

Whilst there may be a degree of bias in this statement given it is from ‘Think Geoenergy‘ and considering the many tourist sites within Iceland and its proximity to the Northern Lights, after visiting the plant I would agree!

 DSC_0185Hellisheidi Power Plant

Powering Iceland

It was particularly interesting to learn just how self-sufficient Iceland’s power supply is and the extent of which the energy produced is sustainable.

energy use iceland

Source: Iceland National Energy Authority

-       Geothermal water heats around 90% of Iceland’s homes, this is believed to save Iceland £50million in imported fossil fuels each year and reduces their CO2 emissions by around 40%.

Powering the UK

This diagram from the Hellisheidi Power Plants Education Center highlights where geothermal energy could be exploited:

geo thermal regions

As can be seen this is not an option for the UK. However, the Power Plant Technician mentioned that they had recently hosted a visit from the UK Energy Minister.

Prior to this visit The Guardian reported discussions on the potential for the UK and other European countries to be linked up to Iceland’s geothermal energy sources using sea floor cables – creating a cross European ‘supergrid’ of renewable energy supplies. It will be interesting to follow how this is taken forward.

As a passionate music fan I try to make full use of London’s vibrant music scene. It was at a recent concert at the Union Chapel in Islington, that I was not only wowed by the majestic venue, but also reminded of a city issue that I have come across in a professional and academic context; competition for space in a growing city.

Despite being voted ‘Best Live Music Venue in 2012′ the Union Chapel’s existence is being threatened by plans for a new housing development.

The Union Chapel

The Union Chapel not only offers a place for worship, but also an atmospheric space for community and cultural events and a place of sanctuary for those in crisis at the Margins Homelessness Project.  It is made up of both Grade I and II listed buildings.


 The Planning Issue

It is feared a proposal to build 90 new homes behind the Union Chapel could threaten how the Union Chapel currently operates. The scale and proximity of the new homes could result in potential noise and accessibility complaints from the new inhabitants. Conservation groups are also concerned about the height of the development stressing that the developers “should recognise the outstanding architectural importance in the group of surrounding listed buildings”.

Only a few days ago it was reported in the local press that historical and preservation groups are worried about planners protection of ‘Islington’s treasured buildings’, highlighting the development behind the Union Chapel as indicative of the problem.

 Union Chapel Exterior

The need for housing, particularly affordable housing within London

The issue is not clear cut, like many cities London faces competition and conflict over space, however, the importance of housing within London should not be underestimated. One of the Greater London Authorities (GLA) key aims is to provide more affordable housing for Londoners, they state that “despite being a prosperous city, London has the country’s biggest housing problems”.

A balance

Union Chapel have stressed they are not opposed to the new housing. They have collected 14 thousand signatories asking the Council to ensure the development safeguards their existing operations through the developers providing sound proofing and adequate loading bays. By implementing these requests the Council can ensure new housing is provided while safeguarding this important cultural venue. However it does highlight the balancing act required by planners in all cities.

The latest

In December Islington Council’s decision on the planning application was deferred (for the second time). However, this deferral has been attributed to the low proportion of affordable housing within the scheme rather than objections related to the Union Chapel, as the Council were satisfied that the activities of the Union Chapel would be safeguarded and the heritage objections would be overcome. Time will tell if the developers agree to these actions.

How you can take action:

-          Add your name to the petition:

-          Support the Union Chapel

It seems only right to finish this post with an iconic London song sung in the Union Chapel:

Recently we have been investigating Smart Cities and when a fellow course mate drew our attention to World Toilet Day we began investigating the role sanitation plays in Smart Cities. As an avid festival goer especially Glastonbury, at least once a year I consider how much we take sanitation for granted.
In the UK our sanitation problems include access to public toilets (this is a particular concern for disabled and elderly people and young families) and environmentally in terms of the amount of water that is wasted each time we flush. However, globally the issue is much wider with limited access to toilets in the home.
The Bill and Melinda Gate foundation have a thought provoking introductory video:

  • 7500 die every day due to lack of sanitation
  • 272 million school days are missed due to waterborne disease or sanitation
  • United Nations stressed recently that currently the millennium development goal to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015 ranks as the most off track of the millennium development goals and the one that will obviously not be met

(Source: UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to save drinking water and sanitation)

WaterAid also have a powerful video which brings the problem home:

In relation to Smart Cities, we looked at how open data was being used in London to increase access to toilets. There are various apps and websites which utilise the available data. One example is The Great British Public Toilet Map which uses public participation. The website tracks which local authorities have published public toilet data and enables the public to contact those who have not.

Another particularly interesting project published within a Communities and Local Government Report on improving public access to toilets is SatLav, which reuses data, making it doubly ‘smart’. In Westminster the public can text to find out where their closest public toilets are. This data is then used by the council with GIS to map the usage in particularly locations at particularly points and then can predict things such as demand.
Interestingly around the world this weekend there has been several simultaneous sanitation hackathons in an intensive marathon to find innovative solutions to challenges facing the sanitation sector. Hopefully some solutions will emerge from events such as these.
Tweet #Igiveashit
Take action with Wateraid


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 50 other followers

%d bloggers like this: