Why we need to observe urban areas

More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas and UN projections suggest that this proportion will rise to 68% by 2050 worldwide. In Europe, this proportion has already been succeeded with 74% of our citizen living in cities.

Cities generate the vast majority of the country's wealth and investment in its infrastructure amounts to billions each year. Cities are complex entities, with dynamic and interacting infrastructure, social and environmental aspects. For cities to be attractive to live in, they need to provide infrastructure for housing, transport, energy, leisure and health. There are many interdependencies between those sectors. Yet, research typically focuses on single sectors, and limited timeframes and therefore is unable to understand the interwoven processes and systems.

Understanding Cities

Urban Observatories enable the gathering of robust data to better understand cities and their relationship with decision making across a range of scales and sectors in order to:

  • Develop and validate theories and models
  • Identify and address challenges
  • Accelerate innovation and change
  • Support & inform robust decision making
  • Provide go-to places to support other cities to establish observatories
  • Share learning and best practice

By:

  • Designing and deploying urban-wide sensing networks and related infrastructure
  • Curating data
  • Providing analytics to turn data into information
  • Creating a co-learning and co-production environment
  • Developing procedural and governance structures to manage and sustain urban monitoring systems
  • Stimulating and supporting wide participation by accelerating smart city planning and long-term strategic, evidence-driven planning and operations (innovation and change)
  • Conducting experiments at different scales

The Urban Observatories

The mission of the Urban Observatories is to understand how to monitor cities at multiple scales both temporal and spatial and across multiple sectors. The approach will enable discovery-led science through large scale deployments of scientific instruments in the city to answer questions about technology, data storage, data standards and communications as well as more far reaching questions about the scale of monitoring required to carry out experiments in the city (density, accuracy, repeatability). Importantly, it will also enable experimentation: engineering system interventions (enacting a policy, putting in place an operational practice or making a physical change, for example) can be made and the resulting impact observed and measured.

The 6 Urban Observatories are as follows:

Newcastle, Sheffield and Bristol form the first wave of Observatories and are passing on their experiences to the second wave of Observatories, namely Birmingham, Manchester and Cranfield. This knowledge exchange forms part of the CORONA project. The CORONA project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The network of observatories forms one of the three strands of UKCRIC.

Meet the Birmingham team

Prof Lee Chapman

Prof Lee Chapman

Birmingham Urban Observatory Lead

Lee is heading up the Birmingham Urban Observatory and has a keen eye on the meteorological data-feeds we are creating. He is particularly interested in watching the observatory develop as a testbed for comparing structured and unstructured datafeeds, and importantly seeing how they can complement each other to provide sustainable monitoring for city stakeholders for years to come.

Prof Chris Rogers

Prof Chris Rogers

Deputy Lead of UKCRIC’s Birmingham UO, Director of UKCRIC’s National Buried Infrastructure Facility

With a passion for engineering future cities and the infrastructure systems that serve them, Chris's research focusses on sustainability, resilience, liveability, and smartness in cities. He explores the use of underground space to relieve pressures on the surface, he is interested in understanding and reducing / removing the disruption to city systems caused by engineered systems and engineering works to create and maintain them, and seeks to improve the urban metabolism of cities - all the flows into, around and out of the city, which include people, resources, goods and waste.

Prof Jon Sadler

Prof Jon Sadler

Urban Biodiversity Lead

Jon is a biogeographer and ecologist whose research focuses on species population and assemblage dynamics in animals (sometimes plants but definitely including people). His work is highly interdisciplinary, bisecting biogeography, ecology, urban design, and habitat management. It uses approaches that combine detailed field studies, field and laboratory experimentation, with social science and citizen science to examine the links between environmental variability and species (including humans) responses. His research has significant blue skies and applied implications for understanding and responding to the impacts of climate and environmental change variability on ecosystems and people. He is a fan of numbers and coding (especially using open source software such as R).

Dr Simon Bell

Dr Simon Bell

Technical Lead

Simon is responsible for building the software platform that will ingest, store and visualise the vast amounts of data collected by the observatory. He'll also oversee the deployment of sensors across the city.

Dr Tony Hargreaves

Dr Tony Hargreaves

Researcher

Tony is responsible for planning and coordinating the installation and use of distributed acoustic sensing.

Sophie Randall

Sophie Randall

Research Technician

Sophie's role involves the planning, building and installation of weather stations all over the city of Birmingham.