AAG 2016 in San Francisco

Last week I attended the American Association of Geographers annual conference in San Francisco. This was my first AAG and first time visiting the Bay Area, so made for a fascinating trip.

The tech boom and economic resurgence of the Bay Area is a topic of much interest to geographers, and I really enjoyed the Author Meets the Critics session on Michael Storper et al.’s new book The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies. The book compares San Francisco to Los Angeles over the last 40 years, and how SF has more successfully developed new knowledge economy industries, including through government interventions like the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). It was great to see influential economic geographers like Michael Storper and Allen Scott debating city evolution and path dependence, as I’ve been following their work for a long time.

CASA and UCL were well represented at the conference. Martin Zaltz Austwick presented on how the Olympic regeneration in London is affecting artistic creativity in Hackney Wick. Continuing the artistic theme, Miki Beavis presented her PhD research into the dynamics of live music performances and venues in Camden. Agent-based modelling was a big conference theme, and Kostas Cheliotis presented his work modelling pedestrian behaviour in Hyde Park using the Unity game engine. I also enjoyed Kurtis Garbutt’s work using ABM for flood relief modelling in the UK.

Continuing the pedestrian theme, Panos Mavros presented his PhD work on measuring psychological responses to the built-environment using mobile EEG readers, based on pedestrian navigation experiments in Fitzrovia London. I had participated in the experiment that was presented six months previously, and it was interesting to see the academic analysis on the psychological experience of navigating through urban space. Quick takeaway was the high diversity of route choice and psychological response amongst participants, even within a controlled experimental context of a small area of London.

My own presentation reviewed methods for creating online thematic mapping platforms for researchers, based on a recent open access review paper. The session included Jesse Piburn from Oak Ridge lab, presenting innovative recent work integrating global spatio-temporal data (World STAMP project).

As well as the academic work, their was some leisure time for enjoying the city. Spring is well underway in California, with lots of wildlife and colour. I visited Muir Woods, one of the few last reserves of the giant coastal redwoods, named after the Scottish naturalist John Muir who had a key role in founding Yosemite National Park.

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The city has many affluent picture postcard neighbourhoods famous from movies that are great to explore. But there are urban challenges too. One can’t help be struck by the extent of homelessness in downtown, where large city districts have hundreds of people sleeping rough. The story of low income households being left out of a huge real-estate boom is all too familiar. With homelessness on the rise in London, and government policy making things worse, we are heading for a similar situation.

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