Digital Connector: integrating hard and soft models to solve urban challenges


The Future Cities Catapult is a global centre of excellence focusing on the challenge of urban innovation: how cities can take a more cohesive approach to the way that they plan and operate. Integrated urban modelling is a key capability to achieve this, integrating human behaviours, such as social activity and mobility, with the design and management of the built environment - streets, buildings, utilities and parks. In urban systems and policy-making, decisions are typically dependent on one another, however, this is seldom reflected in the way today’s models are developed and applied. These models are often created and applied in disciplinary silos, they are disparate and disconnected using data at different levels of detail, sourced at different times and stored in different formats. This leads to inefficiencies across city planning, design and operation. Even when integrated, they are done so in a bespoke way, requiring subsequent integration with other models to be started again from scratch.

The key innovation to be delivered by the project will be the creation of an open source digital connector for the integration of both hard and soft models, datasets and visualisations without the requirement for fundamental reworking of the models or reconstitution of data inputs. A modular framework will be constructed around the digital connector to facilitate development and fusion of existing and future models. The framework will also allow for models to be coupled and decoupled in various combinations once developed, ensuring extensibility. The key technical challenge is the identification and specification of standard frameworks for data, integration of different types of models and visualisation of solutions to identify dependencies and reuse inputs and outputs. The connector will be a set of data schemas, interfaces and services that can be used to integrate models in a consistent way.

We will apply the connector to various challenges in our partner cities and towns, which include Leeds, Greenwich and Milton Keynes. We will test and validate the techniques, processes and software to integrate different data formats, model types and visualisations. For delivery, we are partnering with Space Syntax, a leading SME providing economics, planning, and design consulting, who bring spatial network models of over 50 cities and 10 regions, and more than 8,000 locations of pedestrian and cycle movement in 22 cities.

The code developed will be Open Source (OS) and the intellectual, modelling and data frameworks will be openly published and managed via the Urban Modelling Institute (UMI), an organisation created as part of the project to ensure continued updates and legacy of the work developed. This will enable a community of relevant academics, industry experts, software developers and end users to guide and further develop the tools, and importantly, develop new products and services, as well as provide consulting services around them.

Lead Participant

Project Cost

Grant Offer

Future Cities Catapult Limited, LONDON £2,000,092 £ 2,000,001


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