Citizen Journalism: Creating a more walkable, rideable and playful city

More than 20 million people in the UK are physically inactive, a fact which is costing the NHS billions of pounds every year. Something has got to change.

When it comes to the relationship between health and technology, people’s opinions typically fall into one of two camps. The first frames technology as the backbone to anti-social indoor activities, confining us to hours in front of our personal computer or games console.

The reality is that this view is over-hyped, with only 13% of heavy technology users spending less time attending events outside of the home and 15% spending less time with friends and family. Nevertheless the image persists.

The second camp sees opportunity. Alongside technology’s ability to open up a new world of social and learning possibilities, the rise in popularity of wearable devices has seen a new generation inspired to up their physical activity by tracking their steps, inputting calories and acting on gentle nudges.

It all started with the simple pedometer in the 1980s. Fast forward to today and there’s over 50 million fitness trackers sold each year, ready to motivate and reward our better behaviours.

CityVerve is building on this movement with a series of projects under the banner of ‘A City That Cares’. The workstream puts technology at the heart of a wide range of interventions to assist with the day-to-day practicalities of providing health and social care to the 2.5 million people of Manchester.

It aims to appeal to the full breadth of the population, from those most at risk of the negative implications of inactivity all the way through to existing fitness fanatics.

Let’s take a look at a few of these initiatives…

On your bike

More than one million cycle journeys have been made on the Oxford Road and Wilmslow Road Cycleway in Manchester since recording began with CityVerve.

Those cycle journeys could collectively burn off the equivalent calories from eating two million digestive biscuits or 760,000 bags of crisps, helping people get fitter and healthier.

As well as keeping Mancunians fit, encouraging more people to get on a bike is one of the key ways in which Greater Manchester can tackle air pollution and climate change – two of the most important challenges facing the region alongside squeezed health budgets. Those one million cycle journeys along Oxford Road equate to around 621,000 car journeys.

CityVerve has also seen automatic cycle counters installed on a number of cycleways elsewhere in Greater Manchester to help measure how popular the routes are and evidence the case for expanding the cycleways network.

Other two-wheel initiatives include an Internet of Things-enabled bike sharing service and a group of 160 volunteer riders using high-tech bike lights to generate ideas for better routes, racks and safety measures via the anonymised data they send.

These projects gather data on various aspects of a cyclist’s journey, from the quality of the road surface through to the space afforded by passing cars. The CityVerve consortium then works to turn this data into policy suggestions and practical solutions to boost the number of cyclists across the city.

BeeActive app

The BeeActive smartphone app links together a user’s location with weather, traffic and travel data to provide personalised nudges for physical activity. The idea is that tiny gamification nudges and challenges will foster positive long-term habits.

Available on both iOS and Android devices, the app successfully combines a good workout with a bit of brain exercise. One of the most popular games is the bee history walking tour that takes in sights at Oxford Road, Canal Street, the Town Hall, Manchester Art Gallery and Manchester Cathedral. New challenges are always being added, giving users a new way to explore Manchester’s incredible backstory whilst increasing their fitness levels.

Work Out Buddies

Run by FutureEverything as part of the community engagement programme, Work Out Buddies explored how physical activity could be made more accessible and enjoyable to all.

One of CityVerve’s more analogue experiments, it aimed to go beyond the media’s obsession of fitness as simply body image and sparked new conversations around active lifestyles, including personal motivation, mental health and eating habits. Work Out Buddies would also find new ways to position fitness as a social pastime rather than simply a solo exertion.

Long-standing perceptions were challenged throughout the workshop and advice was shared amongst those taking part, meaning everybody left with a combination of new perspectives and practical tips for increasing their overall wellbeing.

Transport Hackathons

Last month, the CityVerve Open Innovation Transportation Hackathon tasked developers, entrepreneurs, designers and enthusiasts to use data in inventive new ways to drive more sustainable commuting solutions.

The challenges for the weekend-long coding session concentrated on two main areas of focus: cycling and bus stops.

In exchange for unrivalled access to valuable datasets, those taking part would come up with new visualisations and business opportunities tied to these two modes of transport, including developing an aggregated booking platform for the many different bike hire schemes that grace Manchester’s streets.

CityVerve recognises that the most original solutions can come from the most unlikely of sources, with the hackathon format ideally suited to big generational challenges.

The winners of the challenge, Light My Way, will continue developing their smart cycling solution for CityVerve – and enjoy a trip to Dubai, too, to compete in this year’s Youth For Public Transport hackathon.

Image via Sam Morrey – another of our Citizen Journalists; check out more of his photos here.

February 28, 2018 in Citizen Journalism

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