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Roca explores the history of urban planning

Ebenezer Howard, To-Morrow, 1898 Ebenezer Howard, To-Morrow, 1898

A new exhibition at Roca London, entitled The Data and Life of Great Future Cities, proposes that personal data “could be the key to better urban design”.

With a title influenced by Jane Jacobs’ 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, it also references work more recently undertaken by Marco de Nadia at the University of Trento into rapid urban data gathering, cross-referencing survey data with social activity. De Nadia’s work has arguably created a new dimension for urban planning, as it offers a more objective, evidenced-based way to plan urban environments rather than a “If we build it, they will come” attitude of missed opportunities gone by.

Exhibition curator Eva Woode makes the connection in this way: 

​By studying these projects, in which data mining essentially becomes a new tool to learn about how people use and perceive cities, we've found that researchers such as the MIT Senseable City Lab are progressing the tradition of urban observation pioneered by Jane Jacobs, albeit with modern technology and on a massive scale.

Through this exhibition, we've wanted to highlight these new tools, and also tried to put contemporary approaches to studying a city at street level into historical context.

The exhibition covers histories in urban design, alongside more contemporary work such as Friendly Cities from Carlo Ratti at the MIT Senseable City Lab. Work such as Ratti’s again includes data to inform planners as to how people move around cities, and whether making connections with others are planned and/or serendipitous - and how urban planning can address both situations.

All in all, it’s an exhibition of urban planning, history, anthropology and visualisation. What’s not to like about that?

The Data and Life of Great Future Cities runs from 15/09/18 to 26/01/19 at Roca Gallery in Fulham, London. More here.

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