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The Active City : Visualising cultural activity in London

Over the last few months we have been working on a series of visualisations representing the theme of an active city as part of our masters coursework in spatial analysis & visualisation at CASA, UCL.

Our group – consisting of myself, Rowan Blaik, Lyzette Zeno-Cortes and Agata Brok, chose to pursue this with the specific idea of cultural activity and interaction.

This post will summarize it all in one page, but a more comprehensive presentation & folio for this piece can be viewed via the website: cityofcultu.re

Below are some examples of the wide array of visualisations we produced to explore the topic, which covered global, regional, city and street scale.

Global Magnetism

Here we explored global migration to London through a static visualisation Processing, as well as a look into the magnitude of one of London’s many cultural attractors (the V&A Museum) using D3.


Cultural Icons

These visualisations explored how data from monuments of individuals and events can be made more meaningful through crowd-sourced data from sources such as Wikipedia. In particular, we focused on English Heritage Blue Plaques, which have a strong presence in London.


Plaque Explorer

The most exciting and challenging phase of this visualisation involved generating a browser-based London using threejs. Here we represented cultural phenomena in the form of metaballs in the city – which are divided by category and scaled by their proximity to their own type. The plaques were also included in this city, with their height increasing with amount of page views on their biographies in Wikipedia in the last 90 days.


One of the advantages of using threejs was that it allowed us to add our own customization. One of these involved implementing the visualisation so it can be viewed with the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. While this was a bit of a challenge, it proved an interesting, and of course fun, way to interact with the city in your browser. If you’d like to run this you will need an Oculus Rift with the Oculus bridge plugin running locally.


Icons of reminiscence

This final aspect of the project involved moving to a street scale, which opens up ideas of how these can be represented in a augmented reality/wearable avenue. The people from the plaques were rendered nicely in Adobe After Effects and represented as portraits flying through the streets, with bubbles representing their page views again.


If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below or tweet any of us at @oc_lock , @land_lab, @urbanjuicing, @cityremade.

If you’d like to learn how to do these kind of visualisations, take a look at these courses that CASA run.


Processing Simulations Part II – Cellular Automata


Continued revision, here are some examples of cellular automata used for simulation.

Cellular automata consists of a grid of cells, a neighbourhood around each cell, a set of rules as to how what happens in a cells neighbourhood affects the cell and a set of states that a cell can take on.

One of the most well-known of these models is Conway’s Game of Life

This has the basic rules
Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if caused by under-population.
Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding.
Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.

The ways in which this simulation evolves complex patterns provide a good example of emergence and self-organisation.

Below is my own simple cellular automata examples of three cities – all starting with a different amount of resources. These cities then grow according to a number of rules based on proximity to neighbours. One can observe that the city on the left grows much faster, the middle sometimes never grows at all, and the right slowly – the left eventually enveloping them all.


Processing Simulations Part I – ABM


This post will cover some of the examples I have worked on in terms of simulating urban phenomena in Processing as part of my MRes coursework.

Diffusion-Limited Aggregation
For a city to exist people must have proximity to one another. New entrants to the city will need to connect to those already there. However, individual values dictate their locational choice. This model holds these values as seeking as much personal space as possible – so that they wish to live as far away from others as possible but still remain connected and within the city’s area. Here a diffusion-limited aggregation (DLA) rule has the particles (here, individuals) undertaking a random walk until they connect with a static particle. The simulation begins with one static particle in the centre and you can see the pattern begins to form dendritic structure similar to those seen in some settlements and transportation networks.

Agent-based models
As touched on in my other post, agent-based models can be used to describe system behaviours from the bottom-up, where simple behavioural rules work together to create a phenomena more, or different, to the sum of their parts. Here the agents are performing basic behaviours of avoiding each other and moving towards a goal. One can see the effect the agents have on eachother reaching their goal. One can start to observe how these models can be used to simulate the effects of congestion and crowding.