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Data as a tool for the city


22 Jul, 2022

The city is complex, ever-changing and made up of countless interacting systems. To function effectively, cities need data – lots of it.

Data can help us understand how the city works, where problems are occurring, and where there are opportunities for improvement. It can help us make better decisions about everything from infrastructure to public safety. In recent years, the city has become increasingly reliant on data. We now have more data than ever before, yet its usefulness and accessibility has become one of the biggest challenges facing the future of cities.

The Eye Tracker, de la cruz Oglivy x Supermax (2022).

Powered by Google and in partnership with the National Hurricane Centre, The Eye Tracker is a product of collaboration between Supermax and de la cruz Oglivy to help communities in active hurricane zones better prepare for significant weather events. Tackling the long-term challenge of panic buying during extreme natural disasters they set out to ensure no one is left without the critical supplies they need, when they need them.

The Eye Tracker provides real-time visualisation of the progress of a hurricane before the disaster strikes, giving better and more accurate forecasts which is connected to the ability to specify the products and supplies each household should be buying and which they shouldn’t – based on household composition and GPS. The Eye Tracker converts historically top-down information into a useful bottom-up tool, empowering people, and their communities.

Camera technology has provided vast opportunities for the future of cities from developments in new ways of working to urban management systems and surveillance. But it has been particularly challenged in its ability to be inclusive. This is important because these systems are deeply influential in how we experience our cities and whilst their spatial impact may be less clear-cut we can better understand these through examples such as familiar everyday examples such as Twitter, Facebook or the NHS.

The British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2020 hosted the exhibition the Garden of Privatised Delights which curated by Manijeh Verghese and Madeleine Kessler of Unscene Architecture with wider contributions from built.works, animated.works, vPPR, Studio Polpo, The Decorators and public works.

Ministry of Collective Data, British Pavilion (2020).

Ministry of Collective Data, British Pavilion (2020).

Ministry of Collective Data, British Pavilion (2020).

Responding to the theme of the Biennale – ‘How will we live together?’The Ministry of Collective Data, a digital installation within the Pavilion, challenged the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces and questioned whether we could free our collective data for the benefit of the public. It addressed key topics in the future of digital space such as consent, citizenship, biometrics and introduced unique interactive avatars through real-time recording of participants mood, behaviour and likeness.

Many technology companies have historically neglected to design inclusively – particularly software that captures everyone’s complexion.
Google was amongst one of those awarded at Cannes Lions 2022 for its Real Tone camera technology. Featured in this years Super Bowl, the Google Pixel campaign – supported by T Brand Studio, Wieden+Kennedy and Gut – narrates the story of how the company went back to first principles to make sure everyone could take photos and feel seen as they truly are particularly people of richer and darker skin tones.

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Real Tone was awarded ahead of its competitors for its strong ability to “portray reality”, according to Hugo Veiga, Global Chief Creative Officer at AKQA, and this is a huge step in the right direction for technology and its ability to prove it can keep up with societal shifts of today.

Data has become so impactful to people all over the world but its defining moments in the future of our cities will come in our ability to convert such influence into more accessible and useful tools for the city. Done properly, data can be a powerful tool for the city. It can help us make better decisions, improve lives, and create more efficient and effective forms of governance.