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Smart in the city, thanks to smart technology

The city is a meeting place for residents, visitors and businesses. ‘Too crowded’ according to some and ‘cozy crowded’ according to others. Guarding the boundary between lively and liveable is a major challenge. Smart use of technology can help. And also: research! This way, we can meet each other even more smartly in the future.

Every year, our cities welcome thousands of events. They are also buzzing with tourist and cultural activities, shopping opportunities, bars, and nightlife. The result? Crowds in our public spaces are increasing and it is not unusual for residents' dissatisfaction to increase as well.

Can we map out these visitor flows? How can we manage these crowds and spread them out over time and space? And how do the people themselves experience this hustle and bustle? To answer these questions, we look at two forms of crowding: the actual, objective crowding and the perceived crowding, also known as subjective crowding.

Objective crowding: how crowded is the city?

How crowded is the city exactly, and where and when is it more crowded or less crowded? The best way to do this is to map out the objective crowding. To do this in a well-considered way, we need data about these crowds in the physical public space. Thanks to smart technologies, we can gather these insights. With this data on crowds, local authorities and other stakeholders can get to work to make the city a pleasant place for the people who live, work, and spend their time there.

There are many technologies that measure objective crowding. For example, several providers measure traffic and visitor flows through various methods: radio wave counts, mobile data counts, camera counts and Wi-Fi counts. These technologies give us an insight into the objective, actual hustle and bustle in the city. We can also apply these technologies to a specific event or location. With the Crowd Counting project, researchers from our centre of expertise Public Impact of KdG University of Applied Sciences and Arts have developed an online tool that helps event professionals choose the most appropriate counting method for their event.

But residents themselves can also map out visitor flows in a technological manner. The Telraam project lets interested citizens count traffic flows by means of small devices that they attach to their windows at the street side. This project not only provides useful data about traffic and flows, it also solves operational problems and stimulates citizen involvement.

It becomes even more interesting when we bring together the results generated by different technologies. A good example of this is imec's City of Things pilot project CityFlows. That project visualises the flows of cars, pedestrians, and cyclists by combining data from different counting methods. The project focuses on the Antwerp Smart Zone.

Subjective crowding: do you feel crowded in the city?

Crowds are perceived differently by everyone. For some, hustle and bustle is lively and exciting, and can improve mental well-being. For others, it has a negative effect on well-being. For them, their quality of life is more important than the economic benefit these flows could bring, such as the many day-trippers in some coastal cities during hot summer months. Crowds are usually experienced as negative when the ratio of residents to visitors is uneven. Therefore, cities should also pay attention to the perception of crowding.

Mapping subjective crowding is challenging, especially in real time. The Dynamic Crowd Measurement software can offer a solution. It allows us to measure not only crowds and flows, but also the mood of passers-by. In this way, we can detect (potentially) too busy places in real time by taking both objective and subjective crowding into account.

It is important that these technologies are recognised as sufficiently privacy sensitive. Working with camera data to recognise moods often evokes a lot of resistance, also from the users. Nor is there any research into how we can link the mood detected by cameras to people's actual moods. This requires (follow-up) research. After all, we all dream of lively and liveable cities, meeting places and events. And the smart use of data and technologies can help.

Free seminar: event safety and the importance of crowd counting

On September 6th, 2022, the researchers of KdG will present the results of their research into objective crowding. During the past two corona years, the centre of expertise Public Impact worked together with IDLab from the Antwerp University - imec on a project in which the accuracy, feasibility and practicality of various counting methods were examined. Both manual and technological counting methods were studied.

This VLAIO-funded TETRA project showed that one technology is more suitable for one event than another. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. The choice of a counting method determines the quality of the data it generates, which has an impact on its accuracy.

Would you like to attend? Discover here the programme of the seminar and register.

Missed the seminar? No problem. Contact us for more information and advice on which counting method is most suitable for your event:


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