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Using Data To Transform The Way We Interact With Our Cities

By Neil Manthorpe, Associate Director of Design , Atkins

Using Data To Transform The Way We Interact With Our CitiesNeil Manthorpe, Associate Director of Design , Atkins

As designers, we all want to create places that bene­fit the end-user. And thanks to new and emerging technologies, we can now embed digital ways of working into the world around us. Creating public spaces that benefit our daily lives. Using the infor­mation to deliver tangible benefits to people.

What is often missing is a true understanding of the connection between these two elements – the human and the digital. Using cameras and sensors attached to cities’ existing infrastructure, we can collect anonymised data to track the way people interact with the world around them. But, as designers, what value can this big data bring to the spaces we create for people? Is it about creating virtual replicas? Interactive stakeholder engagement? Accurate monitoring of how infrastructure is performing?

Or is it about using these insights to create an environment that responds to people’s needs?

A responsive city

By integrating technology into the landscape – embedding sensors and cameras into the infrastructure itself – data can be collected in a non-intrusive way, to inform how the public space responds.

When it comes to our streets, parks, and public spaces, our teams at Atkins are looking into the future of our cities and exploring how advanced technology could transform these spaces. ‘Unhindered,’ a concept Raj Suresh created for Croydon’s istreet competition, is about how we can use technology to create high streets fit for the future. It uses technology and data insights to not only create responsive designs, but to understand the specific human needs, those designs are responding to. Using infrastructure that collects data on passenger movements, it imagines a high street that can predict when someone wants to sit on a bench, rising it up from pavement-level. It analyses bike movements, responding to their need for somewhere to park when entering a shop. Meanwhile, pavements could automatically widen to accommodate more pedestrians, while LED crossings would appear during peak foot-traffic.

While this sounds pretty futuristic, it’s clear that the focus isn’t on just creating a high-tech high street; it’s about making a high street that responds to people’s needs.

Putting it into practice

We already have great examples of where data has been used to benefit local communities. Looking to Croydon once more, we worked collaboratively with Croydon Council, Thames Water and Southern Gas Networks on a project called Collaboration in Croydon. The work was centred around data sharing between the utilities and the local authority, to drive in new insights and efficiencies in delivering street works. The result? By overlaying data and facilitating dialogue through our GIS solutions - #Connect - Thames Water, SGN, and Croydon Council delivered over £680k of benefit and reduce disruption by almost 100 days from working together in one street works location alone.

By embedding data collection into our infrastructure, we can ensure cities are ready to respond to the needs of the future. Putting flexibility and adaptability at centre stage. One great example can be found in the world of transportation. Sensors could be installed along the road edge to monitor the ways people interact with the road network – from drivers’ speeds along certain roads and cyclists’ movements to unmarked but frequent crossing spots for those on foot. Once collected, this data can be used to inform the way driverless vehicles are designed, with consideration for the ways others use the shared road network.

All in all, using big data is all about finding solutions for people, and positively impacting the way they move around and experience our cities. We aren’t just creating places; we’re shaping the way data and digital tools can improve the places we live.

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