Tag Archives: Urban planning

Gridlock: GIS in transport planning

By Joseph J. Bailey (@josephjbailey), University of Nottingham, UK.

It is not hyperbole to state that we are witnessing a revolution in the human sciences … fuelled by a stunning advancement in capabilities to capture, store and process data, as well as communicate information and knowledge derived from these data” (Miller and Shaw, 2015; p. 180)

We have all been there, haven’t we? Powerlessly sitting in a vehicle amidst of a sea of pollutants. I am of course referring to the traffic jam. They are often the result of rapid urban expansion around city centres that were simply not designed with such volumes of traffic in mind. It is something that people the world over can relate to. Indeed, Statista (with TomTom data) recently released a graphic that identifies the world’s worst cities for gridlock (also see: IB Times, Forbes). Drivers on a thirty minute commute (with no traffic) in Istanbul, Mexico City, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Bucharest, and Recife (Brazil) could expect to spend more than 100 hours a year in gridlock; that’s over 4 days a year just sitting in a car stationary in traffic! The sheer volume of waste that traffic causes (fuel, money, time) has hugely negative effects on the environment, economy, and human wellbeing. Environmentally, of course, pollutants are also a significant problem, posing risks to both the natural world and human health.

‘GIS’, or ‘Geographic Information Systems’, is now ubiquitous in geographical research and beyond. It refers to an array of processing and analysis techniques that use spatial data and theory (see the QGIS introduction to GIS online). GIS can be used across an enormous range of research from natural disaster management and monitoring deforestation, to biodiversity science and geomorphology. This post considers GIS in transport planning.

Rgoogin at the English language Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons. Available at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:New_York_City_Gridlock.jpg

New York in Gridlock. Source: Rgoogin at the English language Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), from Wikimedia Commons. Available here.

Miller and Shaw (2015), writing in Geography Compass, recently discussed GIS-T (GIS for Transportation), providing an update update on their previous work from 2001. The quote at the top of this post says a great deal in itself and, while people referring to data volumes and computing power is so common it is bordering on a cliché, it really is true and we need intelligent systems to make both sense and use of it. The heart of GIS-T projects is identified as a georeferenced transportation database, probably using a spatial network in which locations, nodes (e.g. junctions), distances, and directions can all be represented in a model. With this spatial network in place, mobile objects (e.g. people, vehicles, freight) can then be incorporated and modelled. Terrain (e.g. if somewhere is very steep) and human-imposed features (e.g. congestion zones, toll roads) can also be considered where they may affect traffic flow and peoples’ decisions.

We are now comfortably into the 21st century, and new technologies can help provide information for GIS-T models. Most notably, GPS technology is widely available in most vehicles and on most individual people (via a phone or tablet). Such mobile tech means that “it is now feasible to collect large amounts of data from a wide range of mobile sensors in real-time or near-real-time at high spatial and temporal granularity” (Miller and Shaw, 2015; p. 185). A better understanding of how people move should help with urban planning, in terms of both policy making and infrastructure design, by allowing scenarios of certain decisions (e.g. creation of a congestion zone where people have to pay to drive into the city centre) to be incorporated into the GIS-T models.

GIS is a fantastic geographical analysis and problem-solving tool that needs to be fully harnessed and applied to a range of problems (from traffic management to conservation planning) if we are to cope in our increasingly busy and complicated world. As we have seen here, GIS-T has enormous potential in urban planning, utilising quantities of fine-scale data that we have never had at our disposal before. Hopefully this will be able to make for more efficient and sustainable cities, towards improved environments, economies, and human wellbeing.

 

books_icon Miller, H. J. and Shaw, S. (2015). Geographic Information Systems for Transportation in the 21st Century. Geography Compass, 9 (4), 180 – 189.

“are We Whistling in the Wind?”

By Briony Turner

MEC's green roof among others by sookie (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This was the question posed by Dr Bob Bloomfield, Head of Innovation at the Natural History Museum, whilst chairing a discussion at the IHDC 2012 conference, on designing ecosystem services into the built environment.

Our connection with nature is at times, and certain locations, tenuous to say the least.  The National Trust has documented the children of Britain’s declining connection with nature and the external environment.   Stephen Moss, who reviewed the findings, diagnosed a “Nature Deficit Disorder”.  This report, “Natural Childhood”, marked the National Trust’s launching of an inquiry to determine the barriers and the solutions for children’s connection with nature.   The inquiry found that children’s love of nature is best started in the home. If we are to avoid creating a generation cut off from the natural world, we need to look not only at the role of parents and authorities, as recommended in the findings, but also at that the built environment practitioners can play by designing in nature to the places we call home.  This call for greater practitioner attention to nature-based assets within metropolitan boundaries is mirrored in the recently published UNEP “Cities and Biodiversity Outlook” report and in research by Luca Salvati and colleagues on the link between urban planning and land degradation.

Our connectivity with nature is not just a childhood concern.  Some may recall the 2009 flood of Victoria Station that brought transport chaos to London and the greater South East.  Well it also served as a spark to rethink growth plans in the Victoria Business Improvement District (BID).  The event served as a stark reminder that economic growth of an area is vulnerable to nature, that there is work needed to improve the climatic reliance of local businesses and that nature can play a vital role in doing so.  The Landscape Institute case study explains the actions of the Victoria BID, including conducting a green infrastructure audit which identified a phenomenal 25ha suitable for green roofs capable of intercepting 80,000m3 of rain water each year.  This now ties in with the new London Plan and its All London Green Grid Supplementary Planning Guidance, which formalises consideration of design and management of green infrastructure within London.  The Mayor of London has recently teamed up with the Landscape Institute and the Garden Museum to run a High Line for London competition, which made for some interesting visions of London, and commentary in the London Evening Standard.

Whilst the rhetoric; urban greening, green infrastructure, ecosystem services make nature seem like a distant planet, manageable only by institutions and an abundance  of bureaucratic processes, this is not the case.  Any patch of ground, free of tarmac, even that hidden under decking/concrete slabs, has the potential to help intercept heavy rainfall.  The Guerrilla Gardening movement is hot on the case with their ‘pimp your pavement’ campaign and a number of water companies have teamed up with the Environment Agency and other organisations to produce a free ‘UK Rain Garden Guide’ for household action.

If we are to manipulate ecosystems to provide enhanced service to our cities, then we perhaps need to ponder the “banal violence of configuring spaces exclusively around human proclivities” (p. 580) as highlighted by Kathryn Yusoff in her paper on the “Aesthetics of loss”.  Perhaps, before we get carried away with the services and quantification rhetoric, we should ask ourselves does nature have to have a function for us to have it in our urban areas?  How depressing if the answer is yes.

Whilst some would argue that there’s an inherent tension between the built environment and nature, others might argue that urban ecosystems themselves show the wonderment of nature, its adaptability, and how many other species put us to shame.  You can make your own judgement at the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum –there’s a category for urban wildlife, defined as images that focus on nature’s occupation of the man-made environment.

Ecosystem Services Come to Town; Adapting to climate change by working with Nature,  IHDC 2012 Conference, 15 October 2012, Natural History Museum, London.

We’ll take the high road: off the streets and into the sky could be the future for London bikes, London Evening Standard, 11 October 2012

Case Study: Greening for Growth in Victoria, Landscape Institute 2012

Natural Childhood, National Trust, London

Reconnecting children with nature, National Trust, London

Pimp your Pavement, campaign from GuerrillaGardening.org

Luca Salvati, Roberta Gemmiti and Luigi Perini, Land degradation in Mediterranean urban areas: an unexplored link with planning?Area 44, 317-325.

Cities and Biodiversity Outlook, UNEP

Victoria Business Improvement District (2012)

KathrynYusoff, Aesthetics of loss:  biodiversity, banal violence and biotic subjects, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37, 578-592.

The Return of that Great British Institution, the Weather

By Briony Turner

Source: author

Somewhat regrettably, those scorching days admiring sporting finesse, feeling the heat of the sun against skin (and the 100% recycled polyester iconic top of a Games Maker –the not so regrettable aspect) are now a distant memory, washed out by a month’s worth of downpour in one day.

Having had the topic of weather embargoed for the summer (Games Makers were implored not to be quintessentially British and moan about the weather), the country has returned to its favourite topic of conversation, wiping even the Duchess of Cambridge off the front pages.  According to the Met Office official blog, the culprit is an ‘unusually active’ and ‘lingering’ (blame that part on the jet stream) low pressure system from the Atlantic which has had a field day moving north across the UK, picking up the cooler polar air en route, causing a deeper depression, not only meteorologically but also metaphorically in its wake.

Future climate projections suggest a rise in frequency of such extreme events.  Some geographers, Marc Tadaki and colleagues, are caught up in whether physical geography needs to exist,  and/or indulge in a ‘navel gazing and angst’ debate as to the purpose of geography (Dalby, 2012 p.270).  However, others have simply rolled up their sleeves and are conducting geographical analyses, improving the understanding of and addressing climate change and human vulnerabilities, as noted by Simon Dalby in his recent book review in The Geographical Journal.   These applications and analyses form the basis of information provided by organisations like the Environment Agency, whose website provides the latest flood alerts and enables householders to identify the extent to which, if at all, their homes are at risk of flooding. A catastrophe modelling firm, working with the European Space Agency, has recently launched a mapping tool with geo-coded ‘snapshots’ and impact assessment features to help insurers handle the aftermath of flooding.

Extensive systems and infrastructure, including governance arrangements, are in place to attempt to reduce the impact and effects of flooding.  Homeowners in the UK at risk of flooding currently benefit from the “Statement of Principles”, an agreement between Government and insurers, although it will expire on the 1st July 2013.  Defra are currently working on a replacement.  An article in The Geographical Journal, provides a timely reminder of the complexities encountered in public engagement within flood risk management (FRM) and the potential negative consequences that can result if the local micro-politics are not understood and sensitivities, particularly repercussions of shifts in local power relations, are not accounted for before application of FRM engagement.

One way of reducing the scale of flooding in urban areas is to intercept and delay rain and surface runoff by utilising and improving urban ecosystems.  Built environment industry experts are looking at innovative ways of ecologically adapting the built environment, there’s an annual conference and, this year, a public exhibition of the Integrated Habitats Design Competition’s winners and finalists in October at the Natural History Museum (a Fringe Event of the UN Convention on Biodiversity).  This just goes to show that urban ecosystems can be enhanced, have social, economic as well as ecological value and, as Robert Francis and colleagues point out in their article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, offer opportunities for innovative research.

Flooding – availability and coverage of insurance Association of British Insurers

S. Dalby, 2012, Geo 2.0: digital tools, geographical vision and a changing planet, The Geographical Journal 178 270–274

UK Climate Projections:  Briefing report (UKCP09) Defra

R. A. Francis, J. Lorimer and M. Raco, 2012, Urban ecosystems as ‘natural’ homes for biogeographical boundary crossings, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37 183–190

Defra tweaking statement of principles replacement Insurance Times.co.uk

What’s bringing the stormy weather to the UK? Official blog of the Met Office news team

Satellite Flood Footprints PERILS

M. Tadaki, J. Salmond, R.  Le Heron and G. Brierley, 2012, Nature, culture, and the work of physical geography, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37 547–562

C-P. Tseng, and E.C. Penning-Rowsell, 2012, Micro-political and related barriers to stakeholder engagement in flood risk management, The Geographical Journal 178 253–269.

Britain gets almost a month of rain in 24 hours , The Guardian

RGS-IBG New Content Alert: Early View Articles (25th May 2012)

The following Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Soil hydrodynamics and controls in prairie potholes of central Canada
T S Gala, R J Trueman and S Carlyle
Article first published online: 23 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01103.x

Paying for interviews? Negotiating ethics, power and expectation
Daniel Hammett and Deborah Sporton
Article first published online: 23 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01102.x

Domestication and the dog: embodying home
Emma R Power
Article first published online: 23 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01098.x

Adapting water management to climate change: Putting our science into practice

Runoff attenuation features: a sustainable flood mitigation strategy in the Belford catchment, UK
A R Nicholson, M E Wilkinson, G M O’Donnell and P F Quinn
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01099.x

Commentary

Geography, libertarian paternalism and neuro-politics in the UK
Mark Whitehead, Rhys Jones, Jessica Pykett and Marcus Welsh
Article first published online: 21 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00469.x

Subaltern geopolitics: Libya in the mirror of Europe
James D Sidaway
Article first published online: 11 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00466.x

Original Articles

Faith and suburbia: secularisation, modernity and the changing geographies of religion in London’s suburbs
Claire Dwyer, David Gilbert and Bindi Shah
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00521.x

Mobile nostalgias: connecting visions of the urban past, present and future amongst ex-residents
Alastair Bonnett and Catherine Alexander
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00531.x

Dalits and local labour markets in rural India: experiences from the Tiruppur textile region in Tamil Nadu
Grace Carswell
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00530.x

The Korean Thermidor: on political space and conservative reactions
Jamie Doucette
Article first published online: 18 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00528.x

‘Faith in the system?’ State-funded faith schools in England and the contested parameters of community cohesion
Claire Dwyer and Violetta Parutis
Article first published online: 18 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00518.x

The short-run impact of using lotteries for school admissions: early results from Brighton and Hove’s reforms
Rebecca Allen, Simon Burgess and Leigh McKenna
Article first published online: 16 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00511.x

Learning electoral geography? Party campaigning, constituency marginality and voting at the 2010 British general election
Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie
Article first published online: 16 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00527.x

Hidden histories made visible? Reflections on a geographical exhibition
Felix Driver
Article first published online: 16 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00529.x

‘Read ten thousand books, walk ten thousand miles’: geographical mobility and capital accumulation among Chinese scholars
Maggi W H Leung
Article first published online: 15 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00526.x

Floods should not mean disasters

by Ilan Kelman

Buildings in Moss' city centre in the floodplain (photograph by Ilan Kelman)

Looking back over past centuries, Norway, as with many other countries, has long experienced major river flood catastrophes. Several hundred died along the Gaula River in 1345. In eastern Norway in 1789, flooding killed over 70 people.

Fortunately, river flood deaths have been rarer in contemporary times though threats are still frequent. Most problems are property disruption and damage. Part of the reason is that we own more to be damaged.

Part of the reason is Norway’s tradition of managing rivers by relying on walls–dams, levees, and dikes. When (not if) a wall’s flood design limit is exceeded, the land behind it floods. People are unprepared because they thought that they would be protected.

Instead of forcibly separating people and water, why not let floodplains–called that for a reason–do their job? Let rivers behave as rivers, spreading out when it rains or when the snow melts. Use walls occasionally or as a part of flood risk reduction, but don’t rely on them for everything.

River floods are part of Norway’s environment. They are a natural process. When humans get in the way of floods, then disasters happen. We can stop disasters by permitting floods.

The author: Dr. Ilan Kelman is Senior Research Fellow, Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO).

Kelman I and Rauken T 2012 The paradigm of structural engineering approaches for river flood risk reduction in Norway Area doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01074.x

Sandelson M 2011 Norway storms isolate thousands The Foreigner  27 December

Urban plans lost but not forgotten in a time of financial crisis

by Cian O’ Callaghan

'Balloon', Sorcha O'Brien and Eli Caamano, commissioned by the National Sculpture Factory, Cork. Photo by Cian O'Callaghan.

One of the impacts of the financial crisis that began in late 2008 is that the strategies, plans, and visions underpinning the development of cities do not speak to current realities.  Many of these strategies project twenty or thirty years into the future, a future they seek to build from a present that no longer exists.

The art installation depicted in the photograph above, which was produced in Cork city, Ireland during September 2008, captures the mood of this period very well.  It caught the city at a pivotal moment when the aspirations of the Cork Docklands Development Strategy – a plan initiated around the start of the millennium, which came to fruition in unison with the collapse of the property market – were about to be swallowed up the recession.  At the time these industrial buildings were slated for demolition to make way for three million sq ft of offices and over 1,200 apartments.  The installation was, in a way, like an elegy for these buildings and the version of industrial Cork they represented.  Due to the property crash, the intended development never happened, and these industrial buildings are still sitting on the quays.

The Celtic Tiger period in Ireland was characterised by optimism and growth.  But Ireland is now characterised by a very different narrative; that of banking collapse, sovereign debt, failed speculation, and ghost estates.  This confrontation between the exuberance of the Celtic Tiger and the miasma of the current period is expressed in those strategies that bridge the rupture between these two very different eras.  Now, rather than the population growth that was anticipated as a result of the Docklands project, Cork has to contend with halted developments and vacant properties, the loans of which are owned by Ireland’s ‘toxic’ bank, the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA).  One of the city’s landmark buildings, the Elysian, for example, is now also one of Ireland’s most iconic ghost estates with reputably only twenty five units in the complex sold.  Meanwhile, the local Occupy Cork movement recently moved their camp off the streets and into another NAMA owned building in the city centre.

The dilemma currently faced by Cork is not unique to that city.  This conundrum raises a number of important questions for urban geographers.  One, which I address in my paper, is what happens to all those powerful urban visions underpinning aborted growth plans?  As we enter into a new era of capitalism, a key research question for urban geographers will not only be to address how to move the development of cities forward, but also to understand the latent affects of the plans and visions now lost but not forgotten.

The author: Dr Cian O’ Callaghan is Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Geography and NIRSA (National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis), National University of Ireland, Maynooth.

O’Callaghan C 2012 Lightness and weight: (re)reading urban potentialities through photographs Area doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01078.x

O’Connell B 2011 The high-rise and the downturn The Irish Times 25 June

A Christmas gift to Cork YouTube video 2 Jan 2012

Topography & Cultural Exclusion

Lough Lene, Ireland. A traditional view of the island. Wikipedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

In the October 2010 issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Dr Sergei Shubin explores the sociological and topographical history of cultural exclusion in the Republic of Ireland and the Russian Federation – two nations with remarkably similar agricultural and industrial narratives. Shubin’s work concerns the processes and infrastructures of cultural exclusion and isolation within societies. History has, perhaps unfortunately, imbued both Ireland and Russia with images of idealised, utopian rural life. Such perceptions marginalized contemporary understanding of poverty and helped erode long-standing folk traditions.  Dr Shubin effectively applies the notion of ‘cultural capital’ – a paradigm first discussed by Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Claude Passeron in Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (1977) – to the analysis of historical and contemporary social hierarchies. Rural poverty, Dr Shubin notes, is part of a much broader cultural past that has allowed some to prosper, while others are caught in a vicious cycle of debt, abuse, isolation, and exclusion.

An intrinsic part of this issue lies with topographical geography. Although immensely varied, the Russian landscape is defined by a relatively standard framework. Expansive urban agglomerations are connected by major thruways (e.g. Moscow to St Petersburg; Rostov-na-Donu to Volgograd). Smaller communities are dotted in the rural countryside that lies between. This geographical arrangement is advantageous for class and cultural distinction, and ultimately, discrimination. A similar situation exists in Ireland. Roughly speaking, one can divide the rural/urban organization of island into quarters. The eastern and southern quarters are relatively wealthy and cosmopolitan. The northwestern quarter, however (as well as the region surrounding the Aran Islands), faces away from the rest of the British Isles and mainland Europe, and remains rural, sparsely populated, and low-income. In both Russia and Ireland, a sharp urban/rural divide exists, determining personal incomes, material wealth, access to domestic and foreign goods, and health.

Discussions of cultural exclusion are by no means limited to Russia and Ireland. The current controversy of the French Republic’s dealings with Roma migrants reflects long-standing cultural tensions between native-born French citizens and immigrants, who are often forced into undesirable jobs or in positions far from major cities. As Dr Shubin pointedly argued, relegation is a particularly effective mean of excluding certain cultural groups, ‘limit[ing] an individual’s cultural resources and forc[ing] people to take up less desirable positions in the community’. Le Monde recently highlighted inter-governmental confusion over the legality of the forced deportations. Yet the Roma fiasco hints at a much more deeply-rooted issue in France. Article 1 of the French Constitution declares that, ‘France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion’. Yet, Article 2 begins by clearly stating that French is the national language’. Over generations, this distinction has established a strong dichotomy between “French” and “non-French” constituents in the national culture. Is it possible for France to embrace multi-ethnicity as part of its national identity? Or will cultural exclusion continue to inhibit immigrants, second-generation families, and non-French speaking peoples?

Sergei Shubin, ‘Cultural Exclusion and Rural Poverty in Ireland and Russia‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 no. 3 (Oct., 2010): pp. 555-570.

‘L’opposition dénonce les “dérapages” de Sarkozy‘, Le Monde 19 September 2010.

‘Constitution of October 4, 1958’, The National Assembly in the French Institutions, accessed 19 September 2010.

‘Q&A: France Roma Expulsions’, BBC News, 15 September 2010, accessed 19 September 2010.