This work introduces an ongoing research project that seeks to develop appropriate visual techniques for the design of future scenarios that are able to capture interdependencies within and across different systems. These design methods are being explored as part of wider research on the future of cities and sustainable urban living. The issue of cities as complex systems has been explored by a considerable amount of literature, across different disciplines (for example, Simmel, 1971; Lynch, 1960; Jacobs, 1992; Abrams and Hall, 2004). Cities are not only defined by buidings and infrastructure, but also by the material and immaterial flows generated by the activities that take place in the urban environment, as well as the personal experience of its inhabitants. Environmental, social, and economic challenges call for actions of radical interventions in modern urban areas. In order to be truly sustainable these actions must be collaboratively developed in trans-disciplinary sessions. Here, people from various backgrounds and with different interests explore alternative solutions, find a common ground and plan concrete actions towards a desirable future (Holman et al., 2007).
One of the challenges of this approach is to find effective ways to visualize how individual solutions impact the general context and relate to each other. There is a need to develop “means for drawing things together” (Bruno Latour, 2008), a common language to describe complexity and allow hidden interdependencies to emerge. The field of information visualization is rich with examples of how diagrams can be used to describe a complex matter by focusing primarily on the relations between different sets of qualitative and quantitative data. In this context, diagrams are processes rather than finished products: they are working tools for design and decision making.
Liveable Cities is an interdisciplinary research project that aims to develop a method of designing and engineering low-carbon, resource-secure UK cities that do not compromise on individual and collective wellbeing. Different areas of the project are investigated by research teams at Lancaster University, University of Southampton, UCL, and Birmingham University, with the help of expert panellists, partners and potential users of future services. Great importance is given in the research to the human dimension of living and working in a city. Quality of life, wellbeing, and citizen aspirations must be assessed and translated into design criteria for transforming the engineering of cities to deliver low-carbon living solutions.