ESRC: Smart cities: Bridging Physical and Digital

One of the challenges we face is how to best design and change cities into smart intelligent and sustainable environments. Researchers will explain how new technology can make our cities more habitable, and help the people who live in them understand them better.

Researchers at the Centre for Spatial Analysis and Policy, University of Leeds, and the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London, have been developing a range of high-technology ways to see and think about the modern city. An exhibition in Leeds which forms part of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Festival of Social Science 2012 explains how cities are becoming 'smart' and demonstrates how tools, such as online mapping and modelling, are transforming the urban experience.

Mapping and modelling technologies of this kind can show how major disruptions to public transport affect traffic flow. Computer simulations can help to emulate vehicle movement patterns and help people to plan ways of avoiding the worst delays.

Amy O'Neill at the University of Leeds, organiser of the Smarter Cities exhibition, says: "Today's technology allows us to engage with people in real time. This means that it can be used to provide intelligence about cities, for example, through social media such as Twitter and Facebook. We have been combining data from traditional sources such as government and commercial surveys, data that has been captured from buildings and vehicles using sensor devices, personal data, for example from tweets, and data which has been volunteered by the public, for example on traffic movements."

The exhibition will allow people to engage with the possibilities that this creates. There are now an increasing number of ways of getting real-time information on the cities we live in, often via Smartphone applications. Many of these applications involve engaging with your friends in real time and in new ways. The existence of this data and the innovative ways it can be visualised and used, means that cities are becoming smarter. One of our exhibits, for example, will showcase how the study of twitter data provides us with powerful conclusions about movement and activity patterns in our cities.

Another of the exhibits will be 'Pigeon Sim', a computer model adapted from video gaming. This allows the user to 'fly' across the cityscape, using games controllers to direct their flight and seeing the view on a near-immersive big screen. Amy says: "This is a technology that enhances our perception of the urban environment and is especially good for engaging young people." Pigeon Sim does not use recordings. Instead it is fed by real-time data on anything from water levels in rivers to traffic jams or air pollution.

Amy concludes: "The emphasis will be on exhibits that people can use, not just look at. There will be a lot of hand-held devices that can help people imagine how they might use these resources in their own lives. This technology is also useful for local government, businesses, researchers and other professional stake holders".

For further information contact:

Amy O'Neill


Telephone: 0113 343 7992

ESRC Press Office:

Telephone 01793 413122
Jeanine Woolley
Telephone 01793 413119
Notes for editors

Event: Smart Cities: Bridging Physical and Digital
Organiser: Amy O'Neill
Date: 9 and 10 November 2012 (8 November is invitation only and not open to the public)
Venue: Leeds City Museum, Millennium Square LS2 8BH
Audience: General audience
For more information: Smart Cities: Bridging Physical and Digital
A short interview with project researcher Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith, Director and Reader in Digital Urban Systems Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL, is available at
This event is organised by the University of Leeds Centre for Spatial Analysis and Policy, working with colleagues at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London
The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.
The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council and takes place from 3-10 November 2012. With events from some of the country's leading social scientists, the Festival celebrates the very best of British social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives – both now and in the future. This year’s Festival of Social Science has over 180 creative and exciting events across the UK to encourage businesses, charities, government agencies, schools and college students to discuss, discover and debate topical social science issues. Press releases detailing some of the varied events and a full list of the programme are available at the Festival website. You can now follow updates from the Festival on twitter using #esrcfestival.
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at