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| Integrative models for sustainable development

Time-Geography considers humans as creative agents, operating within the constraints of a continuous space-time. The TiGrESS (Time-Geographic approaches to Emerging and Sustainable Societies) has developed new ways to use empirical and simulation data that integrate information over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. Case studies are advancing our understanding of the dynamic links between knowledge, action and environment. This provides insights that support sustainable development policy.

People and POLOs

INFRAPLAN aims to keep the water flowing © TiGrESS
INFRAPLAN aims to keep the water flowing
Time-Geography treats time and spatial dimensions simultaneously. Torsten Hägerstrand, who developed Time-Geography in the 1950s, described it as an “ontology” that could be used to discuss spatio-temporal behaviour and innovation. "It is especially useful in cultural ecodynamics," says TiGrESS coordinator Nick Winder, "where the behaviour of transnational life-support systems can be modified by new perceptions and local knowledge."

TiGrESS studies the coupling of belief with action that creates Pockets of Local Order (POLOs) in the landscape. POLOs range in scale from offices to cities, for example, and impose a lasting spatial structure on a landscape. "POLOs are often recycled – modern cities may stand on ancient river crossings, and offices occupy old dwellings," Winder explains. "Every POLO has a characteristic spatio-temporal signature. POLOs are persistent infrastructure that facilitate or constrain future action."

The TiGrESS consortium

Madrid case study area © TiGrESS

Madrid case study area
The project had two goals. First, Time-Geographical concepts would be used to specify software tools for exploring socio-natural interactions. Then those tools would be evaluated in three case studies relevant to sustainable development policy.

The TiGrESS consortium is supported by the EU Fifth Framework Programme’s ‘Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development’ (Key Action 4) and has eight partners. It is coordinated from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which also focuses on theoretical aspects. RIKS bv. Maastricht, Géographie Cités (CNRS), Paris, and Imperial College London provide software, and geographical and analytical expertise. SWS Cranfield University and CWS Exeter University are specialists in water management; Departamento de Medio Ambiente (UEM-CEES), Madrid, is involved in sustainable agriculture and environment; while David Lock Associates, Milton Keynes, are a town planning and urban design consultancy, and potential end-users.

Models in the pipeline

Time-Geography dimensions © TiGrESS
Time-Geography dimensions
The first case study, EUROSIM, models local variation in urban demographic trends. To do this it needed data that used the same recording conventions across national boundaries. This allowed the EUROSIM team to simulate the entire urban network in Europe and use this to provide 'boundary conditions' for focused, regional models. The border between France and Germany is the first focus. "The idea is that we will validate the model in the recent past," Winder explains, "then we can consider current and future trends – simulating urban interaction within the expanded EU, for example."

The INFRAPLAN case study focuses on the massive building programme planned for the M11 corridor in south-eastern England, which will put great stress on the water supply infrastructure. New pipelines will be required to meet the additional demand. INFRAPLAN incorporates modules for changing land use, water demand and water supply infrastructure. It simulates and compares alternative network expansion plans over the next 30 years. "No one has connected supply and demand-side models before," Winder says, "getting pipelines wrong is expensive – we can use dynamic optimisation to get a strategic overview."

The third case study has built a database for agriculture and land planning in Madrid. The team is trying to reconcile economic aspirations to the goals of sustainability. Wildlife corridors are needed for nature conservation. Sustainable farming and parks could provide these. There would be long-term benefits for residents and developers alike, for example, opportunities for recreation, markets for local produce and enhanced house values. "Databases and models of this type could provide a first stop for people doing environmental impact assessment," says Winder, "reducing the cost of compliance with EU policies and maximising benefits."

A software shell

The TiGrESS project has made a series of technological innovations. Winder continues: "Our most recent development has been a specification for a generic tool for monitoring simulation output or for preliminary analysis of data. This tool (TiGS) connects Time-Geographical data to visualisation and analytical systems, allowing users to select time-slices, agents, attributes or POLOs for detailed study. It needs some tricky programming, but if we can get it stable before the project ends, we hope to make TiGS 'open source'."

TiGS complements existing GIS and statistical packages, allowing users to select data for spatial, or multi-variable time series analysis using a visual interface. The data are highly portable. "TiGS has tremendous potential for teaching and learning; it could bridge the gap between coursework and research,” Winder claims.

TiGrESS has also been working to improve conceptual models of innovation. As Winder explains: "All our case studies involve changes in space-time constraints – water movement, migration, roads or enhanced communications. These, in turn, impact on human perception and behaviour. We hope to develop a framework for describing the emergence of POLOs and new social dynamics in terms of local responses to space-time constraints. We are very excited about this link between innovation, environment and Time-Geography."

Time-Geographical methods can be applied to empirical data, to study the past, or to simulation data, to explore possible futures. Two spin-off projects illustrate the wide range of potential applications: the use of data from the Roman period to study archeological evidence for innovation, and the analysis of simulated bird movements. There are also plans to apply the methods to human exposure to air pollution. By helping researchers integrate across spatio-temporal scales, and between different knowledge communities, the TiGrESS team will continue to support policy analysis in the field of sustainable development.

TiGS software shell

INFRAPLAN case study area © TiGrESS

INFRAPLAN case study area



Dr Nick Winder
School of Historical Studies
University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE1 7RU
Tel: +44 (0) 191 222 3557

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