City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Early scribbles in urban informatics and smart cities

Ed. This piece was originally published at on August 11th 2008.

A simple diagram to describe a simple system, produced for a client recently to describe a possible virtuous cycle enabled by urban information strategies.

Starting at the bottom and moving clockwise, elements of the city’s behaviours are captured by urban informatics — that is, drawing real-time data from sensors and other probes of urban behaviour — which is then stored, analysed in city information models. In part, the output of these models is better urban design decisions (informed by the richness of real-time behavioural information).

But this also enables urban information design, which is aggregated and analysed information fed back to the street, for example in the form of smart meters, transit information, environmental performance data or quality monitoring, community information, and so on and so forth. This then enables individuals, organisations, neighbourhoods to change behaviour, if relevant. And so it continues.

Secondly, the value of those city information modelling (CIM) in terms of the design phase.

Firstly (above), the traditional design process in the built environment (here simplified hugely.) With this, we gain learning intensively during the design phase but generally move on once the built fabric is occupied, with only occasional feedback about performance, such that next stages or next projects are largely uninformed. Knowledge is patchy and leaky.

We can now develop this by deploying urban informatics (sensors &c) into our built environment projects (above). Thus we can begin to generate significant data on actual use. Our design practice is informed for subsequent adaptations and projects by these constant streams of data about use, which also informs our CIM’s input into other projects. The models are informed by elements of behaviour that are general — thus agent-based modelling we use is more ‘realistic’ — and specifically, any subsequent work on this site is informed by this existing dataset.

Finally, by using this data to build rich City Information Models, each subsequent design is informed by this steadily accreting knowledge. Each design and occupancy phase reinforces the models. Running through this model-enabled design process a few times, and deploying the models across different sites, we start creating a live model of the real-time city, almost as a side-effect of the design process. This to be used as a platform for public engagement in design, as well as a platform for conveying the city’s behaviour to its citizens. (Note: a model is not the design, merely part of the design process.)

This piece was originally published at on August 11th 2008.


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