Urban Grammar AI research project

We know little about how the way we organise cities over space influences social, economic and environmental outcomes, in part because it is hard to measure.

Satellite imagery, combined with cutting-edge AI, can provide a source of data to track the evolution of the built environment at unprecedented detail.

This project develops a conceptual framework to characterise urban structure through the notions of spatial signatures and urban grammar, and will deploy it to generate open data products and insight about the evolution of cities.

GDSL University of Liverpool ATI


  • 23 November - 30DayMapChallenge 2020

    On November 1st Topi Tjukanov started a #30DayMapChallenge 2020 - one day, one map, one theme. Because it is a lot of fun, the Geographic Data Science Lab wanted to be a part of it and on 23rd day, it was our turn.

    Since the topic was boundaries, we decided to share with you the process of creation of boundaries of morpohlogical tessellation - the (smallest) spatial unit used in urban morphometrics.

    Five cities, five different urban patterns. Morphological tessellation is in principle Voronoi tessellation based on building footprint polygons. In practice, we first shrink our polygons (you need a gap between adjacent buildings) by a small margin, then generate a dense array of points along the polygon boundary which is passed to Voronoi algorithm. Finally, resulting polygons are dissolved based on the building it belongs to, and morphological tessellation is done. See by yourself how each step looks and compares across different patterns on a matrix below. If you click on the image, you can see the full resolution (16.2 MB).

    Do you want to play with the algorithm and create your own sequences? We have a notebook just for you! And if you’re going to generate tessellation on your data, momepy has you covered. For further details head to Martin’s blog post about a paper on tessellation he has published earlier this year.

    Stay tuned for new advances in this space!

  • 02 November - Implementing morphological functions to the ecosystem

    This blog post covers some of the efforts the team has made to contribute code developed for the project to the broader Python eco-system for (geographic) data science. Processing of data within WP1 and morphometric assessment within WP2 entail the development of new bespoke algorithms and implementation of some which are currently available in the Python ecosystem. However, even those already existing were often not performant enough for the scale of this project.

    As part of the data processing stage of the project, we have refactored some of them to gain the performance enhancements we needed. Since we strongly believe in replicability of research, all software developed within Urban Grammar AI project should be available for other researchers, optimally packaged in a friendly shape of a Python library. At the same time, we want to support open-source software which we use for the research.

    We think the natural approach is to include enhancements made within the area of urban morphometrics to momepy an existing toolkit for urban morphology. WP2 heavily builds on momepy’s code and every relevant piece of code we made is now merged back into momepy. That covers both performance-focused changes to implementation (#219, #209, #207, #205), mostly based on pygeos and vectorization, and new additions.

    Two key features of Spatial Signatures, the concepts of enclosures and enclosed tessellation are now available in momepy.elements module and you can create both using only a few lines of code:

    See the detailed guidance in momepy’s documentation.

  • 01 October - First Advisory Board

    On October 1st. 2020, Dani and Martin held the first meeting of the Advisory Board for the project. We are thrilled to have a board that includes Alistair Edwardes, Rachel Franklin, Isabel Sargent and Antonio Miguel Vieira Monteiro.

    The meeting took place, as it’s become customary in 2020, on Zoom. Dani provided an overview of the main components of the project, and Martin updated on progress so far; throughout the three hours of the meeting, there was plenty of discussion and great questions about what the project is trying to do and how it’ll tackle its main challenges. This is by no means a full replacement of the physical meeting we would have had in Liverpool for a full day, but it was an excellent way to connect and kickstart the role of the Advisory Board.

    One of the conclusions from the discussion was that we might adapt to the current situation by trying to have these meetings a bit more frequent (initially only four were scheduled for the entire project) and of shorter duration than a full day (maybe up to three hours). This will allow us to focus on specific aspects of the project for every meeting. Next one will hopefully take place early in the next year and, by then, we might even have something in the form of deliverables to show!

  • 01 July - Welcome to Martin Fleischmann

    Martin Fleischmann The project is thrilled to welcome Martin Fleischmann as the postdoctoral researcher who will work with me (Dani) for the next two years of the Fellowship. Here is a quick bio of Martin:

    Martin Fleischmann is research associate in the Geographic Data Science Lab at the University of Liverpool and a member of the Urban Design Studies Unit at the University of Strathclyde. His research focuses on urban morphology and geographic data science focusing on quantitative analysis and classification of urban form, remote sensing and AI.

    He is the author of momepy, the open source urban morphology measuring toolkit for Python and member of development teams of GeoPandas, the open source Python package for geographic data and PySAL, the Python library for spatial analysis.

    Martin brings with him a theoretical background in urban morphology combined with a lot of experience in Python open source development around geospatial. There could not be a better combination for the project. As the postdoctoral researcher, Martin will be heavily involved in the implementation of much of the code required to develop the idea of Spatial Signatures, teach a computer to recognise them from satellite imagery, and use them to develop an Urban Grammar. At the same time, he is also joining the Geographic Data Science Lab and getting involved in its day to day life, participating in internal seminars, coordinating the Brown Bags series and, more generally, chipping in where possible to make the lab a great place to be part of.

    Welcome Martin, this will be a fun ride!

  • 15 April - Firing up the engines

    This is the first post going out form the Urban Grammar project. We will use this blog to keep track of progress on the project and to announce milestones we are reaching along the way. If you are interested in cities, satellites and AI, keep an eye on the blog and feel free to get in touch with either Dani or Martin!