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August 8, 2016

Sheffield Smart Lab

Sheffield Smart Lab was launched in summer 2015, calling out to entrepreneurs and innovators across the world who had forward-thinking solutions to the challenges faced by Sheffield currently and in the decades to come.

If city planners better understood how people actually used their city, they could do their jobs much more effectively. If they had a detailed understanding of how people moved about, they could plan how infrastructure and facilities could best meet people’s needs.

Ben Calnan, of Movement Strategies, says “one of the main objectives of our solution is to identify the ‘gaps’ in the urban structure of the city centre, the socio-spatial inequalities that traditional methods of planning have created; by understanding how the city centre is actually used, decision-makers will provide better services, reduce costs and plan more effectively.”

His company specialises in capturing crowd movement data – for instance, how crowds move about at concerts or music festivals. The data they have gathered helps inform decision-making about how to organise the layout of events and make them as safe as possible. But Ben and his colleagues have for a while now wanted to scale things up and use their technology to gain an understanding of how people move about a city. When they heard about the Sheffield Smartlab project, it immediately ‘struck a chord’.

Being part of a wider project sponsored by Ferrovial has had many benefits. He says that there have been opportunities to develop their idea with the support of stakeholders who might not necessarily have been accessible. And the fact that there are several other winning teams to bounce ideas off has ‘allowed us to share experiences in a fruitful way’. 

The idea of Movement Strategies is rooted in the notion of re-energising a city in as informed a way as possible. “Our data platform consumes and interprets a variety of data sources to visualise the pattern of people movement and activity in the city,” he explains. “The platform provides an insight into urban issues and identifies opportunities for urban regeneration.”

While Movement Strategies’ technology will clearly help those tasked with the important job of planning a city, ultimately those benefitting most ‘will be residents and visitors to the city who will be able to enjoy a city that better suits their needs,’ he says.

Interviewed by Sheffield Smart Lab.