TECHNOFILE

NOT IN ARNOS ANYMORE

We all know what virtual cities are supposed to look like. They have plazas, domes, structurally unfeasible arches, lime-green lollipop- style trees and azure skies. They are definitely not supposed to look like dreary inter-war north London suburbs where people actually live. The last time Arnos Grove was at the forefront of design innovation was when Charles Holden bestowed a cylindrical Underground station upon it in 1932. Now the neighbourhood has been used as the basis for a virtual townscape that is surprisingly close to real life, thanks to Andy Smith, an enterprising PhD student at University College London's Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis.

Smith has realised that the way to get people interested in urban planning is not to dazzle them with science fiction, but to give them images that look like the view from their own windows, and the tools with which to improve them. He hopes that his Collaborative Virtual Design Studio project, part of Online Planning at CASA, will develop the means by which local people can be genuinely involved in the processes of planning changes to their neighbourhoods. Like virtual cities, the conventional artists' impressions on display in the public library never show how things will really be. It's always a sunny day, Smith observes, the kids are laughing, and there's a hot-air balloon in the sky. "It's not real, but it's how they get things through," he points out. A visitor to his virtual townscape sees a parade of shops, some generic houses, a red bus - to impress foreigners, but it's a suburban Metrobus rather than the Routemaster that tourists love - and trees with leaves instead of bright green lollipops. To add a touch of character, there is a digitised image of the Angel pub at Rotherhithe.

The telephone boxes are standard BT issue, not classic red Giles Gilbert Scott kiosks, but their attraction is that they are movable, like everything else in Cyber-Arnos. Citizens of a real neighbourhood could use this system to explore the effects of planning proposals, and to make alternative suggestions. If a phone company wants to put a kiosk on a street corner, residents can see what it would look like from different angles. They can also lift it up and put it down somewhere else. The same goes for more complex projects, such as the creation of open spaces or housing.

The viewers place themselves in the scene as avatars (in the pretentious jargon that has become standard for such animated figures, however primitive). Smith has created an image which he says is rare in virtuality; an avatar in a wheelchair. One of the attractions of digital life is that people are freed from their bodies, abled or disabled. This figure, by contrast, is designed to reveal how accessible the actual space would be to real wheelchair users.

The system can be global as well as local. Smith is setting up a collaboration with four partner university departments overseas, the idea being that international perspectives and expertise could be brought to bear on any given project. The collaboration may also be able to support itself, with advertisements dotted around the landscape, or facilities for shopping in the virtual shops. However well it works online, though, the key to success lies in how well it is connected to people on the ground. The right places - schools, libraries, estate offices - have to be found for the computers or software. Then comes the difficult part: enabling the people who don't ordinarily use keyboards, let alone modems, to get their hands on it. In September, the Collaborative Virtual Design Studio will get real when Smith goes to New York, where a housing trust in the Bronx will examine whether his system could be used in the redevelopment of an inner-city brown-field site for new housing.

UNREAL ESTATE

The Collaborative Virtual Design project uses a system created by Active Worlds, an online service in which subscribers can stake out a piece of virtual land and "build" whatever they like on it. Active Worlds sells both "Citizen Registrations", at $19.95 a year, and the servers to set up a world of your own; there are links to 300 such domains on the central site.

Visitors touch down in a central plaza and assume an off-the-peg avatar. Any vacant land can be claimed, and there's plenty of it. Homesteaders tend to be conservative folk, with a lingering attachment to walls and roofs; their taste can make a powerful case for planning laws. The good citizens of Kensington, dismayed by the prospect of a Diana commemorative garden, might just count their blessings if they saw the virtual Diana and Dodi monument here, which bears a grim resemblance to a Soviet war memorial.

WORLDS APART

OK, the publicity screen shot has proper trees, but what did Andy Smith say about hot-air balloons? Do 3D (Anglia, Windows, pounds 30) offers home PC-users yet another way to make their own private worlds.

OBJECT LESSON

FREEPLAY WIND-UP RADIO

Baygen's wind-up radios not only brought information and entertainment to remote populations around the globe but also provided an innovative, environmentally sound way of making sure you don't run out of music when you run out of batteries. And now they have come of age in design terms. This new transparent version, which looks cooler than a traditional British August, seems like just the thing to take on a picnic if you want to make the most of any summertime we have left. The trademark winding handle, which promises up to an hour's play from just 25 seconds of turning (even the cranking noise it makes is satisfyingly clunky), is still there, but added to this there's now a solar panel, so if the sun's shining the radio will keep on playing indefinitely. The technology is simple but effective, and the look - available in blue, red, green (pictured) or clear - is eye-catching, not least because now you can see the generator working away inside, and watch as the winding handle speeds up or slows down according to the volume. An absolute snip at pounds 59.95. For stockists' details, call 0800 731 3052. David Phelan

TECHNOTIP

Teddington Cheese is a friendly online shop, with concise details of each cheese and good use of graphics, particularly the symbols indicating whether a variety is suitable for particular consumers, such as vegetarians or pregnant women. By contrast, the Fine & Rare Wines site is geared to people who don't need to be told about what they're buying. The rest of us can browse through and gawp at the prices.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?