Newcastle City Futures: Shaping the future of our cities

A new video shows the work that Newcastle City Futures is doing to collaboratively develop innovative solutions to urban problems.

Newcastle City Futures was set up in 2014 to explore new methods of urban development, looking at the challenges facing cities such as Newcastle, including an ageing population, traffic congestion and social change. It brings together local authorities, universities and businesses.

Several Digital Civics projects have formed part of Newcastle City Futures. The Metro Futures project involved working with Nexus, who own and manage the Tyne and Wear Metro, to better understand what Metro passengers want from a new fleet of Metrocars which will enter service in 2021. The ideas the Open Lab researchers collected, through pop-up labs, schools workshops, online consultation and more, included London Underground-style seating, space for luggage and even solar panels.

The Big Draw Weekend in October 2016 encouraged children to draw and imagine what Newcastle could look like in the future, using JigsAudio, an innovative technology designed by Zander Wilson at Open Lab. With JigsAudio participants can draw on wooden jigsaw pieces and then record an audio explanation of their design onto to a Raspberry Pi embedded within the piece.

This work with Newcastle City Futures fits within the wider digital civics theme of digital local democracy. Jen’s work on neighbourhood planning in Berwick and Zander’s Change Explorer project, which alerts people via smart watches when they visit an area that is about to be redeveloped, were both featured in a recent report by Future Cities Catapult.

Written by Mark Sleightholm. For more information please contact Mark Tewdwr-Jones.

Newcastle at the forefront of planning

A report by Future Cities Catapult has named Newcastle as one of the leading cities in the UK for digital planning and engagement.

The Future Cities Catapult’s Future of Planning project aims to explore how digital technologies can influence and improve planning practices and making the planning process more transparent and collaborative.

As part of this investigation into the future of planning, Future Cities Catapult have published a report into existing digital tools and how they are used in the planning industry. Newcastle was one of three “exemplary cities” listed in the report, alongside Bristol and Plymouth. The report praised Newcastle’s innovative and collaborative planning environment.

“Newcastle University, as a neutral academic body with a civic mission to give back to the city, has been critical in brokering between the different sectors and bringing them together for collaborative projects in digital planning,” the report explained, “especially under the leadership of Professor Mark Tewdwr-Jones, Director of Newcastle City Futures.”

The collaboration between universities, local government and local, national and international businesses – the kind facilitated by Newcastle City Futures and the Digital Civics initiative – puts Newcastle in a much stronger position than many other UK cities when it comes to planning innovation and engagement.

One of the Open Lab projects featured in the report was Jen Manuel’s research using Bootlegger to engage local people in planning decisions. The app facilitates the creation of videos, filmed collaboratively by multiple users, that document issues, opportunities and challenges of their neighbourhoods. These can then be used in planning discussions, and help to break down barriers between residents and planners.

The report states, “the app has been a great success with Berwick-upon-Tweed, as it has been used as a powerful device to communicate changes in a way that the public can easily access and recognise rather than by statutory documents.”

Change Explorer is another of the projects highlighted in the report. The app was designed by Zander Wilson, a doctoral researcher at Open Lab, and notifies people when they are close to an area that has plans for redevelopment. They will then be able to view and comment on the plans, making it much easier for local residents and visitors to have their say on planning decisions.

Zander also used Open Lab’s App Movement platform to design an app that allows members of the public to identify and review examples of Brutalist architecture. This means people can document the significance and condition of Brutalist buildings, which can help with heritage and conservation, as well as sparking discussion over architecture and town planning.

Newcastle’s application of digital technologies to planning decisions and processes fits within Open Lab’s digital civics research, and suggests one way in which planning could change in the future. The report comes out at a time of wider discussion on the future of planning and communities and age-friendly cities.

For more information, please contact Mark Tewdwr-Jones.