Heading into nature to explore smart #wildcities
Right from the start, I knew it was going to be a different day from normal. Crossing London during rush hour, I felt very out of place dressed in full walking gear, trousers, jungle shirt, boots and rucksack.
I was joining explorer Dan Raven-Ellison and his travel companion Tom for a walk across Cambridge as part of Cisco’s National Geographic partnership.
But it’s not just a walk for the sake of fitness. We wanted to explore the important link between nature and our urban spaces, and the role that technology can play in creating smarter, and greener cities in the future.
Over the coming months Dan is walking 1,500km across the country, taking on 15 national parks and 69 cities. As we meet he tells me he’s currently a third of the way in to this epic adventure.
Grabbing a taxi from the station, Dan asked for us to be dropped off at a specific spot at the end of a road in a housing estate – our taxi driver’s face gave away this was an unusual request!
As we walked up the road, it led into a beautiful open field surrounded by blackberry bushes in full fruit. As a man in-tune with nature, Dan of course helped himself to some berries for a pre-walk snack.
He then introduced to the technology we’d be using today. Dan put on an electroencephalography (EEG) Emotiv EPOC wearable headset, and explained a total 19 sensors are placed at various points across his head.
An app on his phone picks up the data, and measures the range of emotions that he feels: happiness, stress, or whatever else in between. This is to make the link between green spaces and the impact on our emotions.
Before we started the walk the headset and app needed to be reset. A soothing Australian voice told Dan to “relax”; and then once again but with his eyes closed. Once this small formality was over we were off.
Watch again: click on the picture below to watch our very first Facebook Live broadcast where we explore #wildcities
The route of our 7km walk criss-crossed the city. Starting off in housing areas, we would pass through out of town shopping malls, entering the academic central space, and finishing next to the River Cam in open countryside.
During the walk we shared commentary on what we were seeing, while the app recorded how the surroundings were making Dan feel. Here are a few of things we saw…
- We walked through a relatively poor area of social housing but it was packed with trees and green spaces. This produced a more pleasant environment than some of the modern, more expensive developments later on with only manicured lawns and lots of stark stone.
- There were too many play areas in parks that were totally unused – despite it being a gloriously hot sunny day.
- We walked through a graveyard that was absolutely bursting with bird song.
- We came across a field that had the remains of a single lamppost. This is where the field used to be flooded in winter, and when frozen over it allowed local residents to ice-skate! This was now a lovely meadow of wild flowers and damselflies.
Between the three of us our conversation was wide-ranging. Dan shared his frustrations that no-one appears to do anything interesting with the fronts of their properties, with Tom and I suggesting the front garden is the English way of expressing ourselves.
We also wondered why tourists only frequent 100 metres around the punts on the Cam. Just a few hundred yards further on and you are in a peaceful riverside walk with cows, sheep and we even spotted a heron.
We’re looking forward to seeing the results from the wearable headset, which will show which elements of nature made Dan react in particular ways.
It was a fascinating day, and it certainly got us all thinking about how cities can benefit from nature, along with the right applications of technology.