Then and Now

newnewthen

In November 1986 I visited SunYatSen University and gave a public lecture about Urban Modelling. China was a very different world then, no cars, no computers, no email, barely functioning electricity. And of course it was before laptops, networks, hand-held devices and so on. The personal computer had only just been invented. The campus was more or less in the countryside. Despite China opening up in 1979, this was still the old China.

Fast forward 31 years to 2017. The University is now a power house, in the top 10 in China and advancing in the QS university rankings worldwide very rapidly. Since 1986, I have been there a number of times but I never gave any more public lectures until last Tuesday and Wednesday when I more or less repeated what I had talked about 31 years ago. Well not quite, of course; it was the same domain of interest and in the same lineage – but I talked about web-based, large-scale urban models, ideas about big data, smart cities and so on. A world away from those distant years but closely linked intellectually.

newthennew

There are no faculty left still working in the School of Geography and Planning from those years but this is not unusual because there is no one left in any of the universities I have worked in before 1990. And it is a little sad that of those who were students then and now senior faculty there, none could remember attending my lecture and I am sure they did not know of it but there were about 130 in the room at the time. I found the building I had lectured in largely because of the poster above which was hand painted for my 1986 visit. Those of you who are Chinese will be able to read this.

Here are the pdfs of the presentations I gave:

Click on these and enjoy.

In the Shadow of Darwin

darwin-pic1

Michael Batty is working on a project with colleagues from the University of Melbourne, UNC at Chapel Hill, and the Santa Fe Institute at the Galapagos Science Centre with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. They are exploring the way human populations are interacting with the natural ecosystem. The Islands are facing enormous population pressures from ecotourism and the group are modelling these interactions between the coupled human-natural systems using the science of complex adaptive systems (CAS).  Eventually they will produce a book about these pressures and their impact on the fragility of the ecosystems making suggestions for future change. The notion that the human and natural ecosystems remain in equilibrium is a convenient fiction and the idea that the Galapagos would have remained the same since Darwin’s historic landing in 1835 (described in his The Voyage of the Beagle) if no human populations had resided on the islands, is fanciful. Natural ecosystems evolve perhaps at a slower rate than human populations at least in terms of their migration, growth and change but these coupled systems pose special problems which have wide implications for cities and nature. The challenges for us all are enormous. They lie at the cutting edge of science and human affairs.

The pictures above show Darwin’s first landing site on the Galapagos Islands in 1835.

Mobility, Transit and Big Data

zaha-hadid

Yesterday I gave a talk on data-driven models to the Hong Kong Poly U Department of Land Surveying and Geomatics, and today I give a similar talk at at 2-30pm in Geography at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. When I got to the Poly U yesterday – and I have been there a few times before – as early as 2001 in fact – I was amazed at the incredible building that had gone up in the last couple of years. The design school is housed  in one of Zaha Hadid’s remarkable buildings that flows like sculpture and this was all the more resonant to me because of her passing away so recently. The talks I am giving pale in insignificance besides this wonderful building, that in fact could not have been developed at all with out the sort off digital technologies and indeed the big data that these lectures are all about.

The talks are about what everyone is calling ‘big data’, that is data that is far too large to fit into an Excel spreadsheet and requires some special skills to manage and massage it. I don’t have these skills but my post docs do. The talks will focus on how big data is the corollary to the smart city and vice versa but then goes on to summarise our work with land use transport models for England and Wales for the Future Cities Catapult where the models are now quite big and the data is bigger than we have been accustomed to simulating all in one piece and then also our work with Oyster Card data on the London Tube where the records are pretty large – files of billion plus transactions. I will post the PDF here for the recent CUHK here . The Poly U PDF is here.