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By Alice Hutchins

What does it take to build a resilient city? Pavements that interlock across vast spaces to make a protected grid of streets? Tall buildings made of thick, quake-proof concrete that stretch right up to the sky-line, obscuring the sun from view? Flats with ‘West-side story’ style fire escapes, dripping down the sides of buildings and giving safe passage to the ground? Or residents with emergency escape plans, prepared to deal with any ensuing disaster that might befall them? Well, Newcastle aims to find out through the use of a new, ground-breaking tool.

In our recent blog, Virtual Reality: Fighting the fire, DERN discussed the ways in which technology can have real world applications that may prevent and minimise the damage caused by natural disasters. Following on from this thread, we discuss another data-set that might revolutionise the way we build resilience in 21st Century Cities. In the first trial of its kind, the governing council have created a ‘digital city’, an exact replica of Newcastle in data format. They have created a version of the city, scaled down to represent all of the weaknesses that might occur if a natural disaster were to strike. 

In order to be able to test out scenarios, and predict as many different disaster situations as possible, Newcastle University have created the Urban Observatory project, which gathers data from all over the city, about rates of pollution, the quality of the water, biodiversity and many other aspects of city life. This way, they can run the information gathered through the online programme, and put the virtual Newcastle through rigorous testing, which allows them to see the consequences and effects that disasters would have, without any damage to the actual city. 

The pioneering technology used in this programme means that the project can analyse the impact of several natural disasters in order to predict which areas of the city are most at risk, which will allow them to build greater resilience in future scenarios. It is believed that the technology could drastically reduce the amount of damage that occurs during natural disasters, as well as preventing the strain that these phenomena place on money and resources in the aftermath and restoration process of places like Newcastle.  

Once the data has been tested, and the results have implemented changes within their own city, Newcastle is hoping that this technology could become a global source for resilience action plans, and help advise governments in many cities across the world, on how best to protect their cities from emergencies.  

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