AGI: Future Cities Event – Glasgow


I managed to write a blog post on Future Cities without telling you what one was. Thanks Joel for pointing that one out. To me a future city is an amalgamation of smart technologies, data and infrastructure. Connecting those things within a city and engaging dwellers in the process will in theory create more sustainable, cost effective, social and healthy cities to live in with residents seeing an improved quality of life.

So what technologies make a future city? The Glasgow Future City demonstrator aims to “address issues such as health, safety and sustainability through the use of open data, apps, portals and citizen science mapping”. Future Cities aren’t an overnight thing; you can’t just build a future city. I think future cities are an ethos of using smart phone technology, high speed connectivity, sensor systems and people effectively to create better urban spaces.


Yesterday saw the kick of the AGI’s Geo: Big 5 event series which aims to tackle the big issues and themes within geospatial in 2014. The AGI’s 25th anniversary year is about looking forward to the opportunities created by these emergent topics. The event for the first theme “Future Cities” was held in the particularly fitting city of Glasgow (which has been awarded £24 million in Future Cities funding from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board), in the enchanting Glasgow City Chambers. The event was a huge success with over 150 delegates registered and 20 school children due to join the event for the afternoon to see the fantastic keynote Prof. Iain Stewart. You shouldn’t count your turnout before the badges have been collected though (as @geospacedman kindly reminded us).

badgesExcellent turn out for the first #geobig5 event

The Banqueting Hall soon filled up before the event got underway with introductory sessions from Hugh Barron (the chair of AGI Scotland), Councillor Gordon Matheson (the Leader of Glasgow City Council) and Andrew Collinge (Assistant Director, Greater London Authority). Matheson’s focus was very much on the concept of technology being an enabler, with smart cities relying on citizens as you’ll see was a recurrent theme.


By the first sponsor exhibition session I was trying to live tweet the event and began to look into how our sponsors were interacting with delegates alongside having some useful and interesting discussions to satisfy my own interests. Esri UK had a 3D poster and laptop to show off the 3D visualisation power of the Esri CityEngine which is used in visualising the relationships between objects, project feasibility assessment and city planning. I managed to coerce a University of Edinburgh MSc student into demonstrating:

Esri stand

The Ordnance Survey also exhibited their Future Cities work and I had a great discussion with them about how the OS is innovating within their product range to deliver the geospatial information required to make Future Cities a reality. I also picked up a leaflet on the new Water Layer Alpha which looks like a crucial bit of digital kit in better understanding and managing our watercourses in light of the recent flooding. Exhibits from thinkWhere and Landmark also conveyed the value of their products and GI infrastructures in developing future cities.

Two streams followed in both the morning and afternoon with delegates having to a make a tricky decision between the AGI Scotland’s Best Practice Showcase and the Future Cities Stream. Furthermore delegates could opt to take on a thinkWhere Q GIS workshop or an Ordnance Survey Open Data Masterclass (in a nutshell) which were both extremely popular.

Despite mostly attending the Future Cities talks I did manage to catch elements from the Best Practice stream and was encouraged by the level of innovation and enthusiasm within the Scottish GI community. John Tullis from Scotland’s Forestry Commission spoke on creating the first Scotland wide native woodland data set and Iain Paton presented on the use of GIS in planning the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games which included the interesting concept of mapping transient data using timeline mapping techniques. @mixedbredie presented with a talk entitled “Mixing it up on the East Side” that I wish I could have attended, not just because of the (hollow) promise of beat boxing but because Ross McDonald and Angus Council received rave reviews from @Abi_CSGN for their innovative practice. I will have to wait for the session recordings for both this and the intriguing open source asset visualisation project from Scottish Water and Kemeling Consulting.

Highlights from the future cities stream included @futurerevill (Steven Revill)’s talk on delivering open data and the Future Cities demonstrator’s focus on four themes: energy, public safety, health and public transport. Talk of streetlamps detecting disturbances and Glasgow’s data being fed into the ‘city brains’ seemed to fit the bill of all very futuristic.  The British Geological Survey managed to widen the context of the future city and got us to think about the sub surface. They demonstrated a very impressive 3D model of the shafts and mine works below Glasgow and explained the importance of sub surface in planning our cities.

I would have liked to have seen more focus on sustainability though it was mentioned as a challenge to the expanding future city by Teresa Gonzalez from the Future Cities Catapult. Teresa spoke strongly of the need for integration of information and technology and the need to not re-invent the wheel. This is something that Chris Rhodes and I were discussing to be true of the future city earlier in the day – ‘Future City’  is a fantastic umbrella term for all the smart technologies developed in recent times. The success of the Future City will be in integrating the most viable and useful technologies in a cohesive way (and of course correctly working out which ones they are…).

TeresaTeresa Gonzalez from Future Cities Catapult

 A panel session (which was excellently chaired by Graham Colclough) focused on collaboration between cities in realising the future city and the potential of pairing up with demographically similar international cities to broaden the context from Glasgow to Global. Rollo Home  from Ordnance Survey depicted how we will see success from the future city when cost value and use case examples emerge. He also made an excellent geology reference in saying that geospatial is the bed rock of the future city, underpinning it. Steven Revill emphasised the difference between the smart and future city as being citizen engagement, previously brought up by Cllr Matheson and that was to be later brought up by Prof. Iain Stewart. The panel session was an excellent conclusion to the stream though would have benefited from more audience debate. We’re all guilty of just internally thinking sometimes and I myself shall try to be more brave and stick my hand up next time!


Following more sponsor exhibits and biscuits we all piled into the elaborate Banqueting hall for the finale. Did I mention that the venue was wonderful ;)? Everyone wanted to take photographs, including the AGI’s Chris (I’m sure we’ll get to see some of the venue and speakers on the AGI blog!):


Professor Iain Stewart delivered a fantastic keynote presentation (missing his PowerPoint slides which is an ability that I very much admire and envy). Iain placed great emphasis on understanding people, place and the past to informing how we grow and develop our ‘future cities’. He emphasied the need to understand the locality in detail and emphasised the city as a natural laboratory. There was also talk of engaging the citizen, using the example that people are not engaged with rocks unless you make them relevant and exciting to the citizen.

Iain Stewart


The event was a great success all thanks to the great speakers, Abi, Rollo, AGI Scotland, sponsors and everyone else I’ve missed.

Key things from the day for me were:

Community: In addition to the Big 5 event there has been a Scottish QGIS user group meeting today. There is also an Open Data Energy hackathon event in Glasgow on Friday 21st ( and a health themed Hack Glasgow event on the following Monday. These events are certainly something that cities nationally should be emulating and actively encouraging. This brings me on to the theme of community engagement which really has been emphasised as crucial to making the Future City tick.

Integration: the future city needs to integrate the correct technologies, information and people to be successful.

Education: A local academy joined us for the afternoon session. The school children had a talk with Prof. Iain Stewart and the Ordnance Survey before joining for the keynote. Hopefully this can be a recurrent success within future AGI events.

Geography: Despite winning the substantial funding the Future City dream is not exclusive to Glasgow or its counterparts internationally. Rollo Home identified that Future Cities are a very national concept for the Ordnance Survey. Steven Rivell identified that Glasgow were approaching data holistically by looking at data networks and as user centric open data that is relevant to a specific individual. The idea of huge interconnected conurbations was discussed. Future Cities can be analysed explored and produced at multiple scales.