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
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris
architecture

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
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.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album