Thousands of well-measured steps show how to build a city
Google Earth always bothered Christian Nold. “There is something odd about the way it makes the whole world look the same,” says Nold, an artist and designer who lives in London. “It has no representation of local differences.” Three years ago, he set out to change that. He wired 100 volunteers in Greenwich, England, with wearable devices that recorded their GPS location and “galvanic response”—the same sweat test used in lie detectors. He then instructed his subjects to go for a walk and note any flurries of excitement. After about six months, Nold combined all the data in Google Earth and unveiled the first interactive map that melded geography with human sensory data. A fly-through tour of Greenwich is jammed with color-coded sensory spikes (each volunteer is assigned a unique color) and accompanying textual annotations. “I like animals . . . lots of ducks and geese here,” comments one user. “Ugly. How can anyone live there?” asks another, who registers a sharp rise on her emotion meter. And perhaps most distressing, “New roads make it confusing to get to the pub.”
Nold dubs the process “biomapping,” which he conceived of as an art project. But when city planners and community groups saw his work, they immediately enlisted him as a consultant. His emotion maps, they reasoned, could be used to pinpoint urban blight. “We could see how people were reacting to social spaces, like parks and plazas, or where there were strong reactions at traffic crossings,” Nold says. He was, in effect, bringing hard data to the guesswork of urban planning.
Thanks to Nold and more than 1,000 volunteers, there are now emotion maps of Suomenlinna, Finland; Siena, Italy; Rotterdam, the Netherlands; San Francisco; and half a dozen areas in England. Next up: an emotion map of Paris, and a map of noise pollution near a London airport that’s slated for expansion.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.