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A New Way of Mapping a City

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Colouring London, a groundbreaking open-data scheme led by The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, is aiming to redefine how city building data is used and shared.

A New Way of Mapping a City

A close up of London's Fitzroy Square taken from the Colouring London map.

Credit: Colouring London

In September this year, a team at The Bartlett’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) will officially launch its pioneering drive to gather information on every building in London.

The project’s name is Colouring London and, by 2021, it aims to be the first port of call for open data on the characteristics of London’s buildings – as Londoners add their knowledge to the platform, the city’s buildings change colour to reflect the data.

Run by CASA, Colouring London has been developed in collaboration with Ordnance Survey, The Greater London Authority and Historic England. Its ambition is to lay the groundwork for similar resources that cities can use to shape sustainable development in a collaborative way, so it’s inspired by open-data crowdsourcing projects such as Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap, and by a growing number of ‘citizen science’ initiatives, which involve non-specialist volunteers supporting scientists by adding data to online research platforms.

Like these initiatives, Colouring London takes advantage of our ability to crowdsource data, to tap into the knowledge of those who know cities best – the people who live in them – as well as those involved in their design and construction, management, care and study. By collecting and visualising statistical data on the city’s building stock today, and on its historical evolution, the project aims to support those working to make London more sustainable.

A New Way of Mapping a City

Colouring London is collecting 12 types of data on London's buildings. Users on the platform can click on any box to find out more about each category.

Credit: Colouring London

Compiling the data

Researchers at CASA are looking for 12 types of information for every building in London: location, size and shape; type and age; who built it and how; how it is being used; whether it is protected; how sustainable it is; the greenery that surrounds it; the history of construction and demolition on its plot, and whether volunteers to the project like the building and feel that it contributes to the city.

This will involve the collection of around 50 subcategories of data. Information can then be used by anyone wishing to download the data, to extract trends and statistics of relevance to many areas of research; from energy reduction and resource efficiency, to housing affordability and the development of economic vitality. Data will also be fed into predictive computational models being developed at CASA to test future scenarios for the city.

The free platform, which is currently in beta, is intended for use by everyone: the key role of colour visualisations and the simple interactive format are designed to make the process enjoyable and the results easy to interpret. Colouring London also revives, for the first time since the Second World War, a tradition of highly detailed, citywide, colour-coded maps of London, of which Charles Booth’s 19th century depictions of poverty and the London County Council’s bomb damage maps, are the best-known examples.

Tackling the impact of urban living

For those engaged in constructing, researching, designing, conserving or solving problems related to the capital, Colouring London promises to be an invaluable resource.

We’re very interested in working with diverse audiences – information on buildings is highly fragmented and this is about trying to address this problem.

Polly Hudson, Project Director, Colouring London

According to the International Energy Agency, buildings and the construction sector are responsible for 36% of global energy consumption and nearly 40% of CO2 emissions. As such, knowing more about our buildings’ origins and lifecycles, and their potential for reuse, upgrading and adaptation, is crucial to tackling the impact of urban living.

CASA hopes to encourage not only individuals but also public and private organisations holding data on London’s buildings to contribute to the project, and to stimulate the release of property characteristics datasets held by government, to facilitate similar platforms in other UK cities.

“We’re very interested in working with diverse audiences – information on buildings is highly fragmented and this is about trying to address this problem, and at the same time help make sustainable development more of a collaborative process,” says CASA’s Polly Hudson, Colouring London’s Project Director.

Colouring London is also designed to increase transparency in the planning system by providing instant, free access to information on London’s buildings for developers, communities and planning authorities. It is also intended to act as a visual celebration of the richness and diversity of London buildings, and of the city’s collective knowledge.

The Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis is an interdisciplinary research institute focusing on the science of cities, applying it to city planning, policy and architecture in the pursuit of making our cities better places to live in. It is part of The Bartlett, UCL's Faculty of the Built Environment. Find out more:

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