Active City: MRes Visualisation Projects 2013-2014

The MRes group visualisation projects are complete, and as predicted, rather impressive. This year the theme was “The Active City”, and students took this and ran with it in a variety of ways, whether viewing the activity of mobility-impaired users of the London Underground network, exploring the Thames as a driver of development and cultural activity, or looking at the cultural life of the city through museums and blue plaques.

Cloudy with a chance of metaballsCity of culture (http://cityofcultu.re) did just that, taking information from those ubiquitous London landmarks and linking it to Wikipedia, to not only draw out areas of the city linked thematically or within a particular historical period, but gathering information about the number of links to other wiki articles and recent page views to highlight the more culturally “significant” individuals. What they then did with this data was really impressive – creating online interactive visualisations and abstract flythroughs of this landscape populated with “metaballs” of cultural energy.

Activity Beyond Barriers (http://activitybeyondbarriers.wordpress.com/) used a sample of Oyster Card data* to explore how people with mobility issues accessed the tube, pairing it with census data via some nice GIS approaches to look at how well used accessible stations are relative to the populations they serve. This built into some very whizzy 3D visualisations of the journeys of users on the tube, and even an app prototype which lets users find information about their local station.

Last but not least, Active Thames (http://activethames.wordpress.com) used the River Thames as a starting point to explore history, tourism and transport. This diverse project incorporated Cellular Automata modelling, live streams of Instagram images of open house London locations, animations of Thames clippers and river boats, culminating in a scene which drew these disparate sources together, using detailed 3D models and Augmented Reality techniques.

Every year I feel excited and proud to have had some involvement with the genesis and evolution of these projects whilst at the same time facing the terrifying revelation that another cohort of students has successfully synthesised the knowledge of our MRes course and in doing so surpassed the capabilities of any one of their lecturers. I especially liked the cultural bent taken this year (it was a nice departure) – although, that said, the way that Activity Beyond Barriers integrated real GIS analysis and data crunching into their work was exciting. I’ve been banging on for ages about datavis being a tool to help researchers frame their research approach as well as being a tool for communicating outputs, so it’s nice to see visualisations which sit as part of the research process.

The MRes is a small course, populated by architects, geographers, software developers, mathematicians, landscape architects, urban planners and the occasional philosopher, and it is at this time of year that I start to feel a bit warm and glowy about having helped to support some of the cool stuff that this mix of people get up to. Some come with technical skills wanting to learn more about cities and space; some come with substantive humanities or social science chops wanting to broaden their horizons with new computational and mathematical approaches. We’re a broad church, the main prerequisite is a desire to challenge yourself, and to learn.

Ok, before I start blubbing, I have to let you know: entry to study the course in September closes in less than two months, on August 2nd. If you’re a UK/EU citizen, the deadline for part-time study is the start of September – if in doubt, get in touch.

Oh! And before I forget, CASA is offering an incredible opportunity: four years of funding to study an MRes and a PhD. Sadly, these sorts of funding opportunities are hard to come by, so please take advantage of it.

*journey data on the London smartcard travel system that covers the underground network

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