Innovation is vital when it comes to urban areas: the built environment is not something ever-fixed, immovable, unyielding... Neither is it something distant over which we have no power or control. And so, a growing number of startups, creative folk and established businesses are making efforts to increase our enjoyment of the built environment, its positive impact on our lives as well as shift our notion of it as permanent and unchanging.

Finally a step in the right direction for urban cyclist safety: Wandsworth Council have just unveiled pioneering plans for the first segregated roundabout in the Greater London area. The Queens Circus roundabout in Battersea will see cyclists and motorists fully separated for the first time by lanes and kerbs.
 
Innovation is vital when it comes to urban areas: the built environment is not something ever-fixed, immovable, unyielding... Neither is it something distant over which we have no power or control. And so, a growing number of startups, creative folk and established businesses are making efforts to increase our enjoyment of the built environment, its positive impact on our lives as well as shift our notion of it as permanent and unchanging.

 
Viewing the City  
 
Google maps have taken their technology to new and fascinating heights with the release of a 3D map of London. Using 45-degree aerial imagery, Google has recreated the capital’s landscape, landmarks and terrains in stunning 3D, affording users an experience normally reserved for pigeons and helicopter pilots.
 
Playing the City
 
This desire to view urban areas in a distinct new light is not purely a London phenomenon… indeed one city which has been leading the way in reimagining the built environment is Bristol.  From a water slide down the centre of a steep high street, to the creation of an Urban garden on one of its most famous avenues, Bristol is taking the ‘head first’ approach to reinvigorating people's perceptions and experiences of its streets.
 
The city is also home to a world leading urban art competition called ‘Playable City’ in which artists are encouraged to use technology in an integrated and interesting way to inject a sense of intrigue and meaning into public spaces. Last year's winner ‘Hello Lamppost’ saw the people of Bristol ‘chatting’ with lamp posts, post boxes and other street furniture of the city via text message. This year's winner was a chilling project called ‘Shadowing’ whereby the street lights of the city record and shadows of people who have passed underneath them and play them back to unsuspecting pedestrians.  
 
These wonderfully creative reimaginings of the urban environment are so much more than simple exhibitions to be experienced and swiftly forgotten. They play a central role in challenging our perceptions of urban areas and ultimately inspiring a rise in our enjoyment and satisfaction of it.
 
Growing the City
 
There are countless inspirational projects and businesses which demonstrate this perception shift, one of the best we have seen is Grow Up, a startup which is pioneering an innovative range of sustainable commercial urban farming techniques within London.
 
With the Tagline ‘sustainable food for a local market’ Grow Up is demonstrating how such agriculture is possible within cities through its vertical growing systems and a method known as aquaponics. Best of all, these farms are perfect for locating in disused urban spaces such as brown field sites or the rooftops of buildings and can be constructed from abandoned industrial items such as shipping containers.
 
The image with the happy cabbages and fish demonstrates how this closed loop system works.  To put it plainly, the fish eat the food; the fish excrete droppings; the plants eat the droppings; and finally both fish and plants are then eaten by humans.   
 
Too often we view the built environment as being problematic - something which must be fought against, navigated, ignored, white-washed and sometimes simply bulldozed.  
 
As these innovations have demonstrated, there can be great value in simply taking a second look…

By Eoin O'Connor - catch him on Twitter @startacusEoin