I just returned from the Urban Data Management Society’s 2013 conference in London, UK (UDMS 2013).It was a great conference, and afforded plenty of opportunity to learn about the cutting-edge research in geoinformation/geomatics, especially as it relates to urban planning. I was also very happy for the chance to meet colleagues in the urban data field, and talk to them one-on-one about their work. While there was too much going on to fully capture it all, I’ve done my best to summarize the experience here, particularly the parts relevant to PlanYourPlace and WalkYourPlace.

OurPresentation: WalkYourPlace
I presented a talk about WalkYourPlace, a tool made by some of the PlanYourPlace research team. The conference paper, as well as all the other papers presented at the conference, can be found on the website of the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS). Essentially, WalkYourPlace is a tool for measuring the walkability, cycle-ability and transit accessibility of a given spot. While there are other tools that do this, such as WalkScore and Walkonomics, to name a couple, ours combines a few features that we think make it special: First, the accessible area is determined based on the actual street network and obstacles on the ground (such as rivers), second, it checks numerous travel modes, and lets the user enter things like walk speed and the time their willing to wait for the bus, and third, the tool uses open and distributed data sources, making scores more reliable. The tool is currently working in Calgary, however, development is under way as we speak to directly link it to Open Street Map (OSM) so that it works globally (the bike and walk portions, at least, transit is a little more work).

Other Accessibility Presentations
There were a few other presentations at UDMS 2013 that also dealt with accessibility. Catherine Holloway presented Measuring Accessibility through Mapping Mopbility, a crowd-sourced application to identify the accessibility of routes and areas to wheelchair users. The application combined aspects of route-finding, navigation, micro-location, and peer support. Catherine and I had the opportunity to discuss the possibilities for the addition of wheelchair accessible areas to WalkYourPlace – interesting idea. Sam Estabrook and Michael DeMarr also presented work on wheelchair accessibility. Their application uses four classes of accessibility, from not accessible to accessible, with gradations in between. It also uses am algorithm to calculate the accessibility. This appears to me to rely less on the crowd than the research presented by Catherine. Both approaches present very interesting possibilities, well worth considering.

Reka Solymosi presented her PhD research, which is ongoing. She is looking into mapping fear of crime in London. This focuses on mapping people’s perceptions of crime in public places, rather than actual crime rate. This research is very interesting to the WalkYourPlace tool, which included information about the aggregated crime level in the accessible area. However, we had numerous questions about the way we had scored and represented crime in Calgary, especially as it relates to deterring accessibility. As such, Reka’s research will be interesting for us to watch.

Research Related to PlanYourPlace
Tomas Mildorf presented on Plan4Business, an online “service platform for aggregation, processing, and analysis of urban and regional planning data”. Based on the presentation, and the project’s website, the project has a lot in common with PlanYourPlace. It gathers information about planning in one place, permits manipulation of it, and appears to provide a service that enables and streamlines online urban planning. There are some differences to PlanYourPlace, of course, not the least of which is geographic; our focus is on Calgary, and theirs is in Europe. From what I can see, the platform also focuses on informing rather than encouraging participation, and may focus on professional users. Whereas PlanYourPlace seeks to also include community residents not involved in the planning and development industry.

The Smart Cities and Big Data track provided information on a number of tools that PlanYourPlace could consider using in one way or another. The first was a discussion presented by Hossein Shahrokni about using sensors in buildings to track urban metabolism. Urban metabolism is a term used to describe the flows of materials and energy into, through, and out of a city. As such, it’s an important measure of the energy performance and wastefulness of a city, and might be an interesting measure of aspects of sustainability, especially environmental. The Smart City SRS project is conducting research in the area, which we’ll follow with interest. Sergio Freire’s presentation on tracking noise pollution during all times of the day (though not presented in the Smart Cities track), is another interesting measure of the quality of life in cities. Also not in the Smart Cities track, Demetris Stathakis’ work on how to measure urban compactness may provide another indicator of a city’s performance.

Rosa Marina Donolo gave two presentations on visualization of geographic phenomena, citing in particular Nadia Amoroso’s visualization work and Bertin’s visual variables. The presentations focused on exploring ways to visually represent geographic phenomena, such as traffic volumes, and wifi activity. Good visual communication is necessary to make full use of the data provided by smart city sensors, and of big data. Rosa also investigated what types of visual communication resonate best with users, with the aim of improving geovisualization. These themes seem to tie in closely with work presented at the GI Forum 2012. Both discussions raised the issue of psychological and physiological testing, to test how users react to visual stimulation, and hence geovisualization. This research will be interesting to PlanYourPlace’s visualization work.

Chorems were also discussed as visualization and comprehension tools. These are very abstract representations of maps that simplify geographic data to the point that relevant phenomena can be absorbed at a glance. These appear to be either a new enough or obscure enough tool that there isn’t even a wikipedia page for me to link to for definition — apologies! The use of chorems as landmarks for data exploration was discussed. To do this, chorems would point the way to the detailed information they summarize, in a database for example. It’s possible that these may be useful in directing PlanYourPlace users to their interests.

Numerous technical tools were discussed. These will likely be important avenues for PlanYourPlace to explore in terms of our own future development: Federico Prandi presented on CityGML, a mark-up language for urban geographic data. Martijn Meijers discussed his work on EDGECRACK, an algorithm to create fully-zoomable vector data. This, it seems, would allow streaming of vector data that could rival current use of tiles in base mapping (although it seems these ideas are still under development – however see also MapBox Vector-Tiles). Volker Coors discussed the use of OGC standards for validating 3D City Modelling, which may also be of interest for PlanYourPlace.

Finally, we were introduced to the Journal of Open Spatial Data. The idea behind this is to provide recognition through publication when researchers make data available to a wider community. This is complimented by other web portals, including the Journal of Open Research Software, that share the same philosophy. This philosophy is also held by PlanYourPlace, and as such, these will likely be important complimentary developments for our project.

The above summary misses so much! I’ve made an effort to include as much as possible, but the ideas presented offer so much new work and thinking, that the reporting necessarily has to be balanced against the new work. The conference was a wonderful experience, full of new colleagues, research, and great ideas. The presentations and discussions have given us a lot to follow up on, and all kinds of ideas to explore in the coming weeks. This was inspirational, and provides a lot of exiting upcoming work.

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