ANALOGIES: Analogues of Cities

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis


This Feasibility Account is designed to develop, deepen, realise and disseminate the role of analogies or 'shared abstractions' that we continually and routinely make in developing and speculating upon the way complex systems function. Nowhere is this more evident that in systems that are intrinsically ill-defined, manifesting a degree of complexity where the scientific canons of parsimony are difficult to engender. Indeed complexity theory has been largely developed to map more abstract structures onto such systems and to exploit their correspondence through analogies. Cities are the example par excellence. Indeed analogies between the human body and the city go back to Plato, and have remained central to the sorts of shared abstractions that have pervaded the language of architects and planners since the time of Leonardo da Vinci and Vitruvius. The notion that the form of the city and the body represent similar systems in which their shape represents the system for transporting energy to their parts (radial routes and streets v. arteries and veins) from their economic cores (central business district v. heart) has been deeply embedded in the rhetoric of city planning for more than century. What we will do in this project is develop a series of key analogies between the way cities function and various electrical, mechanical, biological and human systems such as fluid flows, potential energies and electricity, and dynamic mechanisms, exploring these analogies in a depth that has not been possible hitherto. We now have a veritable cornucopia of such shared abstractions and it is opportune to begin to assemble these and formalise them so that, in the first instance, they will inform as to the best ways forward in developing the many models that are used to examine the functions and structure of cities. Deepening these analogies is thus our first quest. Our second is to translate these analogies into models or analogues that we might realise in tangible form, using the term tangible to span the material and the digital. The process of constructing such analogues is quite new. In the past, these have been developed in an ad hoc manner but in this project we will develop them in symbolic terms as far we can and then translate them into physical and digital analogues. The third quest is to locate these in an environment that users who will include our own inter-disciplinary team as well as professional stakeholders can learn from these models, improving their understanding, their problem solving capabilities and the power of their designs. We will call the mini-media lab An Outlook Tower for the 21st Century after the example of Sir Patrick Geddes who was an early exponent of this mode of participation. This environment will be portable and reproducible and we will seek to engage with stakeholders in communities using UCL's Beacon of Engagement initiative, once the project has developed the requisite materials.

Planned Impact

Our Feasibility Account is structured in such a way that Activities B and C - realisation and dissemination of our analogies as analogues - define the pathways to the impact that the deliverables from Activities 1 to 5 (which are bundled together as Activity A) will produce. Our most visible outputs will be tangible media (in which we include virtual models using digital media tailored to particular digital devices) that we will embody in our analogues. These we will disseminate in a hands-on environment in which those who use our media can explore them in diverse ways. Our media will be mainly digital and physical (in terms of manufactured/constructed artefacts) but we will also explore less permanent materials involving biologies and more sensitive forms that are less easy to control. Our goal in developing analogies in this way is to develop a way of disseminating our research into applications and ultimately into the planning and design of complex systems, cities of course, but socio-technical systems more generally. To do this, contemporary digital media is of the essence. We are not developing exhibits in the traditional sense but we are developing a forum for engaging with other scientists and informed stakeholders who have a central interest in using these technologies to design better systems, cities. A century or more ago, a not dissimilar enterprise was started by the biologist Sir Patrick Geddes, widely regarded as the father of modern British town planning, and his focus in evolutionary theory with respect to town planning has strong echoes with our contemporary development of complexity theory. Geddes was a polymath, working in many fields but bringing his art and science to the widest audience through his Outlook Tower in Edinburgh and then through his Town Planning and Cities Exhibition. Our understanding of cities is now being reinvented using the sciences of complexity and in our ideas about analogies, we think of our proposal as being one of building an Outlook Tower for the 21st Century . We consider that developing pathways in this manner, will enable us to convince many to extend and support our use of media in this fashion. The Town and Country Planning Association is the forum which is most likely to support our effort for what we are doing is close to their mission. We also consider that we might publicise our Outlook Tower through the Royal Society's summer science exhibitions, and possibly we might entice the British Academy to extend its support to our effort. What we wish to do is establish an initiative in publicising and popularising our science so that it has immediate impact on those empowered to design our future cities and to implement policies of sustainability. In Activity C, we will also relate the analogies we are working with to other variants such as those that are both implicit and explicit in EPSRC's Sustainable Urban Environments programme which is drawing to a close but has established important and lasting new science for cities. We have good contacts in all these organisations although we have not yet contacted them to elicit their support but two of us are Fellows of the BA and three of us are Fellows of the RS. We also intend to interact with a small number of high profile consulting companies who use analogues of the kind we are developing to demonstrate their work. Arup have a variety of cognate models as do Space Syntax Ltd. UCL is one of six Beacons of Public Engagement nationwide, initiatives designed to get the University to be more closely involved with their local community. This is funded by a consortium involving RCUK, HEFCE and the Wellcome Trust. The Beacon presents us with some institutional apparatus to continue with the development of our Outlook Tower idea after the formal funding has ended.


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Batty M (2012) Smart cities of the future in The European Physical Journal Special Topics

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Batty M (2012) Urban Regeneration as Self-Organisation in Architectural Design

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Batty M (2012) Smart Cities, Big Data in Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design

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Cheshire J (2012) Visualisation Tools for Understanding Big Data in Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design

Description Analogies are central to the way the digital world mirrors the real world. We use analogies all the time in the construction of mathematical models that are often represented as analogues of physical systems which we then portray in digital form. These forms are often very different from the system which they intend to represent and in the case of cities - our focus here and in our wider Centre (UCL-CASA), there is often a credibility gap between the computer models that we use to represent and make predictions about future cities and the way those empowered to change and plan the city articulate their concerns. In short, there is a gap, which at times is a yawning gulf, between the digital tools and models that we use and the representation of the system of interest in real, physical terms. Analogies - Analogues of Cities - is designed to bridge this gap.

What we originally intended to do was to take a series of models and modelling techniques which have been developed through a series of EPSRC (and ESRC) projects in CASA and translate their digital forms back into physical representations that we believe would make these forms much more accessible to professional and policy stakeholders. These stakeholders' concerns involve the use of such tools to develop predictions, plans, 'what-if?' scenarios pertaining to future city design. We argued that we would achieve this through a series of feasibility studies developed by members of our own interdisciplinary group, which would enrich the insights of our group. To deepen these models, we would focus on those we believe would be made more intelligible in physical form, or rather as a mix of physical and digital form which ultimately turned out to be the medium in which we worked. In this way, we would build representations that would bring our more esoteric tools to the fullest attention of our stakeholders - professional groups who are largely 'planners', however defined - but also to the much wider group of those who have a professional and serious interest in the state of our cities. In short, our models are digital or symbolic, and thus we will make elements of them iconic or analogue, bridging the gap between digital and physical, and producing these analogues in a form that a wide group of stakeholders might interact with physically

A wide group of researchers in CASA were involved in building these analogues and we provide of a full list them in the attached document. George Mackerron was the project leader appointed to coordinate and mobilize the programme as well as work on specific analogues himself. Paolo Masucci advised on networks and Joan Serras on the many transport systems used in these analogies of smart cities: all these researchers were funded for part of their work from Analogies. Originally we argued that we would build our analogues around the following key themes that dominate the way we represent and construct urban models: namely flows, mechanisms, patterns, icons, and maps. We intended to generate ideas using fluid dynamics, networks, cellular automata, fractals, 3D GIS and CAD models, and online mapping.
Exploitation Route We have developed many additional physical-digital media from this project and these have been successful - as they are visual it is difficult to see there here but on many of our blogs this material is displayed - see
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Retail,Transport

Description Our exhibits have garnered considerable support. We have gained considerable publicity for these projects and although there is no aggregated list of media, the web site: provides an excellent summary of most of this media as well as other CASA projects. There is constant demand for the exhibits to be placed in other forums. The GLA have put the exhibit in their display space for the London Olympics. Our ESRC Research Methods project Talisman is using the various exhibits in their NCRM training programmes. We have received funding from UCL Advances to build another version of the exhibit for display. We are currently extending these ideas to other flow models and to other cities, while we are continuing to develop these analogues under the auspices of our other research funding. We were extremely surprised by the fact that this exhibit was so successful and it proves to us that physical hands-on exhibits are essential to bring the digital world into real contexts.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Retail,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services