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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Transforming infrastructure through smarter information

A video featuring the work of CSIC's Dr Kiril Stanilov has gone viral on YouTube.


The London Evolution Animation (LEA) has attracted more than 350,000 YouTube hits and potentially record-breaking numbers of re-tweets from @guardiancities and @guardian. The seven-minute video showing how London has grown since Roman times brings together geo-referenced road network data, protected buildings and structures for the first time.

A partnership between UCL's Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, English Heritage, CSIC and the Museum of London Archaeology, the LEA took nine months to make.

Dr Stanilov, a Senior Research Fellow at CSIC, has assembled a unique database of information to document the evolution of London’s transport infrastructure from the Roman times to the present day – the results of which can be seen in the animation.

The data, extracted from historical maps, books and online sources, traces the growth of London’s transport networks with an unprecedented level of detail, recording the location and time of construction of each street and street intersection, railway and underground line and station within the Greater London area.

“It has been a painstaking task,” Kiril explains. “I had to trace each square kilometre of the city and record what was in the area in different time periods to determine how London’s transport networks evolved over time.”

The outcome of this study, which took two years to complete, is a detailed database including:

  • Roadways – from 2nd century AD to present
  • Waterways – from 1780s to 1820s
  • Omnibus lines – from 1830s to 1900s
  • Railway lines and stations – from 1830s to the present
  • Underground lines and stations – from 1863 to the present
  • Tramways – from 1860s to 1930s

The information compiled in this database offers a long-term, historical perspective on the nature and dynamics of the relationship between land development and transport infrastructure.

Dr Stanilov explained: “There is a lot to be learnt from this work – what’s particularly interesting is that the roads built by the Romans continued to be the main roads for the next 2000 years setting the main spatial framework for the expansion of the city. After the Great Fire of 1666 you can see from the animation that the city grew `tentacles’ which follow the old Roman roads mostly in the direction of Westminster and expanding along the river.”

The development in the transport infrastructure brought with it land development and re-development and explains why London has evolved in the way it has up to the present day.

Dr Stanilov and his colleagues are currently using this massive dataset to develoopo a model that captures such dynamics to simulate the future growth of transport networks of London and, from this model, outline different scenarios for the future development of London well into the 21st century.

“What we have discovered here at CSIC is that certain processes and patterns of urban growth are very strong and stable across time and don’t change that much despite socio-economic changes – so they operate to a certain extent independently of socio-economic fluctuations.” said Dr Stanilov.

“We know that if we create models which go back 20 years, we can use that information to forecast ahead for the same period.  On that premise, if we go back 200 years we can establish that some persistent and stable forces are likely to exert the same influence in the next 200 years as they have done in the past – and this is what is so exciting about this work.”

“If we know how infrastructure and land development are connected, governments and developers can make wiser and better-informed decisions about where to invest both public and private money.  This will increase the efficiency of the planning process, for example, these insights can help us determine whether a new, proposed development for a train station may be a success or not in a specific area, or how much infrastructure will be required for it to become a successful node to attract the necessary investment for the development of a new neighbourhood.”

Dr Stanilov’s ongoing work towards smart city standards for urban development and infrastructure provision forms part of CSIC’s work to develop world-leading models which will inform decision making at the very highest of levels in policy making, as part of the Centre’s aim to transform the future of infrastructure through smarter information.

For more information contact: Dr Kiril Stanilov:

To read the Guardian article click here

Further links:

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