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Highlights from 2nd International Conference on Urban Informatics, Hong Kong

Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) Campus (Background: Jockey Club Innovation Tower, Zaha Hadid Architects)

This week I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd International Conference on Urban Informatics, run by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The conference had an impressive scope of keynotes from various universities such as MIT, UCL, Shenzhen University and presentations of research in conference streams. It was also an ambitious event – further announcing a new international Informatics society, a book series, a set of new courses at PolyU and new journal to follow up the week’s activities.

One of the conference keynotes (Carlo Ratti, MIT Senseable City Lab)

The conference stream presenters ranged from Masters students to experienced Professors and professionals with a very large breadth of topics in ‘Urban Informatics’ spanning themes of AI, Urban Models, Emerging Technologies, Environmental Monitoring and Remote Sensing techniques. In particular, themes from the sessions I attended seemed to often focus on using both supervised machine learning methods and unsupervised clustering methods to understand variety urban systems – from mobility to health.

Some impressive LiDAR technology on show – creating extremely detailed live 3D models… very science fiction! (SkyNet anyone?)

The following presentations were my personal highlights.

Take a Look Around: Geographic Knowledge Discovery for the Case Study of London Streetviews by Dr. Stephen LAW, The Alan Turing Institute and University College London, UK

Stephen presented a comprehensive suite of research on using Google Streetview data and AI (convolutional neural networks) towards automated ways to quantify urban design elements at a large, detailed scale across cities. In particular, it was really impressive to see aesthetic / human experiential notions of active and passive frontages able to be identified en-masse across cities – which could potentially have great impacts as a tool for designers and planners to create more vibrant, happy and healthy environments.

Quantifying aspects of urban design on a massive scale is crucial to help develop a deeper understanding of urban designs elements that contribute to the success of a public space. In this study, we further develop the Street-Frontage-Net (SFN), a convolutional neural network (CNN) that can successfully evaluate the quality of street frontage as either being active (frontage containing windows and doors) or blank (frontage containing walls, fences and garages).

More articles by this author:

Law, S., Seresinhe, C. I., Shen, Y., & Gutierrez-Roig, M. (2018). Street-Frontage-Net: urban image classification using deep convolutional neural networks. International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 1-27.

Law, S., Shen, Y., & Seresinhe, C. (2017, November). An application of convolutional neural network in street image classification: the case study of london. In Proceedings of the 1st Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning for Geographic Knowledge Discovery (pp. 5-9). ACM.

A 4D Spatio-Temporal Approach to Modelling Land Value Uplift from Rapid Transit in High Density and Topographically-Rich Cities by Dr. Christopher Donald HIGGINS, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, HK

Christopher proposes new approaches to accessibility analysis and predicting land-value uplift which is more sensitive to volumetric and topographically complex cities, such as Hong Kong. As well as showing relationships between access to stations and property value, this work provides innovative toolbox in order to tackle understanding travel time which typically does not thoroughly consider both slope and building height of first and last mile travel to stations.

Read more:
Higgins, C. D. (2019). A 4D spatio-temporal approach to modelling land value uplift from rapid transit in high density and topographically-rich cities. Landscape and Urban Planning, 185, 68-82.

“The present research utilizes spatio-temporal methods in a quasi-experimental research design to examine changes in property values associated with pedestrian accessibility to the West Island Line heavy rail extension in Hong Kong. Several innovations in methods and techniques are proposed that respond to the econometric challenges involved in conducting research in high density, topographically-rich cities. Of these, the paper incorporates landscape topography throughout its estimation process, including the calculation of slope-aware measures of walkable accessibility on a 3D pedestrian network and proposes a new Spherical Distance Weights method for capturing horizontal and vertical spatial association among observations in 3D space. Finally, these weights are combined with measures of temporal distance for a 4D approach that accounts for relations among observations in space and time.”

See the author’s full article at here

See also: Higgins, C.D. & P.S. Kanaroglou. A Latent Class Method for Classifying and Evaluating the Performance of Station Area Transit-Oriented Development in the Toronto Region. Journal of Transport Geography. 52, 61-72. DOI: 10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2016.02.012

A Systematic Tracing of Temporal and Spatial Boundaries of Places with High Concentration of Human Activity to Identify Popular Non-Work Destinations by Prof. Roberto Ponce LOPEZ, Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico

Roberto presented an impressive suite of analysis forming part of his Doctoral work ways to mine and classify large social data sets to more meaningfully understand what people do in cities outside of work (which still remains a primary function of many urban models!). Singapore formed an interesting Case Study.



“Research uses data from Google Place API to characterize the built environment of Singapore, building a typology of place that differentiates between shopping malls, strips of retail, food markets and large commercial areas. The method of analysis relies on spatial clustering and k-medoids clustering.”

See his personal blog for more detail on Roberto’s work.

The City

Hong Kong itself was a highlight of the conference. For any urbanist, Hong Kong is one of the most unique vertical cities in the world. Its form and structure become even more interesting the more one walks around and attempts to comprehend how it has all been stacked together in such a small space. The unique mix of cultures living in the city over time makes for a fascinating exploration of art, food, museums and architecture .. indeed complementing the many physical levels the city has on offer.

Yick Cheong Building – five incredibly dense residential buildings stacked closely to one another

Duk Ling – traditional Chinese Junk boat ride on the Harbour

View from Victoria Peak, highest hill on HK Island

Murakami vs Murakami Exhibit, Tai Kwun Contemporary

Didier Jaba Mathieu’s work at the Tung Wah Centenary Garden, Queen’s Road East in Wan Chai

Vegetarian restaurant, Nan Lian Garden

Pavilion of Absolute Perfection, Nan Lian Garden

Thanks for having us Hong Kong PolyU – looking forward to seeing where you can take Urban Informatics in future… 🙂

ICUI 2019 Conference Banner

ICUI 2019 Conference Pack


Adopting open transport data standards – a map of current GTFS availability

Watching the GTFS continue to grow throughout the world over the past few years has been a fun journey. Originally a partnership between Portland (TriMet) and Google to get transit data on Google Maps way back in 2006 – now a huge global standard that helps many people move about in their home cities as well as on their travels. I’ve attempted to map the coverage of GTFS on the following quick map. So many apps and research efforts benefit from adopting this global standard – impressive to see many cities providing open real-time transport data as well. The GTFS community are working hard to transfer this standard for more informal networks in developing world (note the focus on the global ‘West’), as well as changes in urban mobility (such as on-demand transport).

Click above image to see enlarged version.


Highlights from SIGGRAPH Asia 2018, Tokyo

I had the great pleasure of attending SIGGRAPH Asia in Tokyo this year. SIGGRAPH is the annual conference on computer graphics convened by the ACM SIGGRAPH organisation. The first SIGGRAPH conference was in 1974, and there are now many, many chapters in the world. The conference is attended by tens of thousands of computer professionals.

SIGGRAPH Asia was certainly very impressive as a first time attendee. While the conference has strong roots in computer graphics – these attract a crowd annd topics from film-making, animation, art, interactive technologies (AR/VR/XR), internet of things, haptics and so forth. For me, it was really exciting and inspiring to see these applications and to think about how they can also be applied to solve problems in the built environment field – to architecture, urban design, planning and geography. While initially daunting, it was found there were many things here that represent future directions for built environment work. I have summarised six of my favourite displays, demos, briefs and presentations from SIGGRAPH Asia this year. I really look forward to next year in Brisbane!

Technical Brief – Automatic Site Selection of Cultural Venues

The authors presented a novel approach to support site selection of culture venues using machine learning. These techniques are a very unique approach to many of the traditional GIS and spatial analysis approaches done by planners.

Contributors: Tian Feng, Tomasz Bednarz

Technical Brief – Automatic route planning for GPS art generation

The authors presented a novel approach for the automated route generation of GPS artwork, which is described by leaving virtual traces on digital maps. This is quite interesting as it also created a new-purpose form of routing algorithm to try and draw pictures.

Full article: https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3275510

Contributors: Andre Waschk, Jens Krüger

MR360: Immersive Mixed Reality with Live 360 degree video

DreamFlux Presented MR360 Live, a new way to present 3D virtual objects into live streamed 360 videos. This provides the illustion of interacting with objects in the video. They presented applications of augmented ‘teleportation’. The users can add and interact with super realistic digital objects in the video and create their own augmented / mixed reality world. Amazing potential for urban design, co-design, and community engagement!

Full article: https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3275501

Contributors: Many, see article!

Art Plunge

Art Plunge is a virtual reality experience where you can get the feeling of being transported to the inner worlds of famous paintings. The authors have created VR-interpretations of works like Mona Lisa, Starry Night and the Birth of Venus.

The authors explore the concept of what a painting could be in virtual reality, and how different boundaries are blurred in the process: Boundaries between our interpretation and the original painting, between technology and artistry and between now and then.

Full article: https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3275510

Pac in Town

“The player is the star” was Bandai Namco’s futuristic vision for mixed reality entertainment. At SIGGRAPH, users were able to test out the collaborative augmented reality PacMan game. While it wasn’t 100% refined, you cannot argue when playing this you saw a glimpse of the future – and great to share an AR view with others.

Presented by : Hirofumi Motoyama, Bandai Namco Studios Inc., Japan

Full article: https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3275511

Trajectile Command

Trajectile Command is a free WebVR game. WebVR is an emerging technology standard which allows Virtual Reality experiences to be accessed directly from a web browser. The advantages of WebVRover traditional VR experiences is that a user can access content without requiring any third party apps. Trajectile Command is similar in philosophy to free flash games, except in VR. In this capacity Trajectile Command is one of the first of its kind. The game can be played at www.micosmo.com/trajectilecommand. It was not so long ago I was personally experimenting with WebVR of cities, so great to see this kind of stuff is still progressing – and becoming more interactive!

Created by Adam Twite.


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