Using technology to make #wildcities


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First posted on NationalGeographic.com/Cisco

Back in June, I started my walk across all of the UK’s national parks and cities in St David’s, Britain’s smallest city. Since then, I’ve spent 338 hours taking 2,443,845 steps and walking 1,686km. To put that into perspective, equivalent to walking the length of the country and then some.

During all that time, I wore an an Emotiv EEG headset which collected data over 5 million times during the expedition: taking a 3D snapshot of activity inside my brain, transferring the reading from my headset to my smartphone, using an algorithm to work out my emotions and then sharing the data through the cloud for geotagging, analysis, visualisation and storage. I’m now working with neuroscientists and a range of experts to crunch and analyse the data. I hope to have some findings to share later this year.

What has become clear to me is the enormous power of this kind of technology to improve our lives. I really felt that wearing the headset influenced my behaviour. Much like how other wearable devices (such as activity trackers) influence how far I walk and how many steps I take, the brainware put me more in touch with my feelings. On a very personal and practical level, I feel that is has not only helped me to avoid stress but also actively search for interest in everyday places.

The opportunity is for technologies like these to become more affordable, used by far more people and connected through the internet of everything. We already know that data is being used to in many areas to improve health and social care, save energy and preserve the environment and help commuters travel with increased efficiency.Data revealing how thousands or millions of people feel about specific or different kinds of places could directly influence how they are designed. I hope that big data from a crowd of brains will add to the growing evidence for why we should make cities greener, wilder, less polluted and more healthy.

Influenced by wearing the headset, I had many thoughts and ideas about how we could make cities better. My lasting impression is that the UK is a wonderful country, but it’s also bursting with potential and opportunities to make it even more so. Here are just a few ideas of things I think would make the UK better.

Be more inviting
We should strive to make our cities more inviting and accessible to all by growing habitat for wildlife, having benches outside our houses, prioritising streets for children and animals instead of cars, hanging swings on street corners and offsetting every negative “no” sign with a positive “do” sign.

Be more interesting
We could increase visual interest in our cityscapes by erecting sculptures on roundabouts, curating exhibitions on household window sills, designing streets to boost bird populations and amplify their songs, chalking poetry onto paths and encouraging or making in mandatory for retail parks to have as much green as possible and make climbing or art walls on the side of their buildings.

Be more invested
We should be more invested in places by not just protecting nature and heritage but actually creating it, allowing culture and life to thrive wherever possible. We should walk more, engage with each other more and invest in making places more inviting and more interesting.

Be more connected
We should be better connected by ensuring everyone can always get a decent data connection, (unless they are deep inside a cave), using sensors and displays to reveal and visualise current levels of air pollution, monitoring flood risks at a hyper-local level and live screen nearby wildlife in city centres.

Many of the above ideas are personal, local and low tech. Increased connectivity will help us share, engage and evaluate these actions and many more to work towards, more liveable, healthier and wilder cities.

The next part of my journey is to use all of my Wild Cities expedition experiences, ideas and findings to further my work to make London a successful National Park City. To find out when the final Wild Cities results are published and how the London National Park City campaign is going you can follow me on Twitter at @DanRavenEllison.