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The University of Southampton

Urban model for the evolution of port cities wins national Smeed Prize

Published: 18 August 2020
Aditya Tafta Nugraha
Aditya Tafta Nugraha

Postgraduate research student Tafta Nugraha from the University of Southampton has been awarded the Universities' Transport Study Group (UTSG) Smeed Prize for a new insight into the evolution of land use at port cities.

The final year engineering PhD student quantified the neighbourhood, transport and geographic effects that influence land use of over 50 UK towns and cities to identify patterns of urban interactions near ports.

The Smeed Prize recognises the best student paper and presentation at the annual UTSG conference, which was held virtually this summer to allow for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tafta, who is part of Southampton’s Transportation Research Group (TRG), created the model to help planners to predict the longer-term land use and transport consequences of interventions and better plan sustainable cities.

“It feels really good to be recognised for my work, especially when the standard of the research presented in the competition was so high this year,” Tafta says. “I was quite nervous to give the presentation virtually but it ended up being really nice as my dad and sister were able to support me by attending the conference from Indonesia.

“Sustainability is one of the most pressing issues we face today and transport emissions represent one of the largest threats. The decision to intensively build new roads in the 1960s and 1970s will have solved short or medium-term problems for the time, but had we been able to better foresee the long-term impacts of these decisions we could have avoided some of the issues we are facing today.

“The work I have done can give better indications of the effects of urban planning decisions taken today for the lives of our grandchildren. I hope that this can enable and encourage future transport and urban research to look beyond the short and medium-term solutions and to emphasize more on long-term sustainability.”

Tafta’s research is the first to quantify interactions between urban agents within a large number of port cities. By doing this, he was able to bridge separate port city studies and provide quantified interactions to examine how a port city system may evolve into different trajectories.

He used a land use and transport interaction (LUTI) model based on cellular automata (CA) to quantify effects influencing land use distributions in 46 port and 10 non-port town and cities through a gradient descent algorithm. Cross-sectional analysis of the results then provided insights into the general patterns of urban interactions.

“When we see a map of a city we see the end results of thousands individual urban agents making a decision on where they want to locate,” Tafta explains. “These are complex decision making processes influenced by many factors such as geographic suitability, transport accessibility and the effect of proximity to other urban activities. The unravelling of these urban interactions is the heart of my research.

“In port cities, there is an added complexity as port and urban developments could either support or harm each other. Ports can induce economic generation for urban area, which in return provides the port with labour and resources. However, port and urban activities both generate traffic which could increase logistic costs if not managed well.”

Tafta collaborated with fellow postgraduate research student Freddie Nash from the Agents, Interaction and Complexity Research Group to optimise the model programming process.

“While the Smeed Prize is awarded to an individual, I am indebted to the advice and support of many people like Freddie for this accomplishment,” Tafta says. “I also would not have been able to achieve this without my PhD supervisors. One of the main reasons I chose to do a PhD was the chance to work with Dr Ben Waterson and Dr Simon Blainey. They are great teachers who really care about their students and know the best ways to motivate them.

“This whole process has taught me the value of hard work. I have been successful on this occasion but there have been plenty of other rejected papers, research works that led to dead-ends, and other failures. It is important to keep going and accumulate skills and these lessons will be most important for me going forward.”

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