The City is Ours urban planning tool

Museum of London looks to the future in exhibition on cities and tech

Image credit: Museum of London

“Happiest” and “saddest” boroughs ranked by moods expressed in geolocated tweets to be named and shamed on gigantic screen as curators eschew old artefacts in favour of real time data analytics

The emotional highs and lows of inhabitants of the UK’s capital are being beamed in real-time onto a giant screen as part of a new installation in the Museum of London which opened today.

It was unveiled at the same time as The City is Ours, a major new free exhibition charting potential futures for urbanites the world over, threw open its doors to the public.

The installation, called Pulse, was created by data analysis studio Tekja. It collects and crunches geolocated data harvested live from social media and displays popular hashtags and Londoners’ most commonly used emojis at any given moment in a bid to track the digital heartbeat of the metropolis.

Foteini Aravani, the museum’s digital curator, said the installation aimed to “capture the pulse of London” and would name the “happiest” and “saddest” boroughs based on analysis of people’s tweets.

In the exhibition as a whole, visitors can delve into pressing topics like the housing crisis, air quality, remote surveillance and the potential for smart city technologies like connected autonomous and electric cars.

This marks something of a departure for the museum, which receives the bulk of its funding from the City of London Corporation as well as the Greater London Authority and which has traditionally concentrated on displaying old artefacts and charting London’s history chronologically. Thankfully, those wishing to see ancient mammoth skulls, prehistoric flints and Roman ceramics can continue to do so in the museum’s permanent and somewhat less hi-tech galleries.

Among the highlights in The City is Ours is an interactive digital map featuring 25 London-based initiatives ranging from guerrilla gardening schemes to renewable energy projects.

There is also a dramatic 9m-wide film presenting data to visually compare characteristics such as life expectancies, building height, greenhouse gas emissions and wealth associated with life in major urban centres around the world, from New York to Tokyo and from London to Sao Paulo.

In addition, visitors can watch case study films about cities including Detroit and Copenhagen which detail innovative initiatives to cope with some of the problems of city life, and they can try out “rooftopping” using virtual-reality goggles to teeter on the brink of a Hong Kong skyscraper (something which is not advisable for those scared of heights!).

Furthermore, wannabe urban planners are invited to design their own theoretical city of 500,000 people by arranging districts of different types in various configurations on a digital interactive street plan to try and work out how best to reduce traffic and cut CO2 emissions, while budding law enforcement officers can obsessively monitor feeds from CCTV cameras within the exhibition space while pondering the effectiveness of modern surveillance technology.

More than half the world’s population now lives in cities, and the populations of major metropolitan centres are predicted to continue swelling over the coming decades, lending an urgency to efforts to crack problems associated with congestion, strains on food security and supply chains, creaking transport infrastructures and the vexed question of where to house all those new urbanites and how much green space to preserve.

The exhibition was developed together with Cite des sciences et de l’industrie in Paris and is the first dual-language French and English exhibition at the Museum of London, with every exhibit entirely accessible in both tongues.

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