How technology can help us redesign our cities – and lives

SOURCE:  Jason Bennetto,

From analysing our urban spaces to ensure they encourage social cohesion, to connecting household appliances to the internet to regulate our energy needs, technological developments promise an exciting future for city living


The riots that erupted across the UK in August 2011 caused devastation in many areas, but could they have been tackled earlier or even avoided through the use of advanced urban planning?

Work being done by consultants Space Syntax, who use computer-modelling to consider the spaces between buildings in the design of urban places, shows how technology can help us to understand the way we live and work in cities and how we interact with our surroundings.

Ed Parham, Space Syntax’s associate director, says: “By analysing how areas are connected, you can find patterns of accessibility.” The modelling technique, known as spatial networks, examines how streets and communities function in relation to each other. It builds on research being carried out in the slums of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia where Space Syntax discovered that a deprived area can become connected to surrounding communities and potential new markets by simply removing a small number of key buildings.

Parham explains: “In slums you find that they don’t overlap with the nearby city centre, which makes it increasingly difficult to generate something that is economically sustainable. You end up with overcrowding and no one has any money to reinvest. These areas become completely isolated.”

Space Syntax believes that by analysing this relationship further, authorities could predict the location of future social disturbances. Using the same modelling tools, planners could also design more user-friendly and safer communities by creating living spaces with plenty of natural surveillance, which are connected rather than segregated from their surrounding areas.

While Space Syntax software works on large-scale cityscapes, technology is also transforming the creation of individual buildings and urban spaces. In Birmingham, the interior design of the £188m new city library is being “road tested” by consumers in the virtual reality world Second Life so that strengths and weaknesses can be identified and catered for as the actual building is still being constructed, delivering a better deal for users.

Technology will also transform our daily urban existence in a myriad number of small ways, says Philip Sheldrake, director of Intellect, which represents the UK technology industry…

Read the full story here


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