Applying Big Data to City Livability
A number of progressive cities have made a wealth of data available to the public. The intention generally is to improve access, accountability and transparency of government. Thankfully, for citizens and consumers, an impressive network of software developers have grabbed the opportunity to deliver a vast array of applications allowing us to do everything from pay our bills, seek important but otherwise archaic information, entertain ourselves or just generally live our lives more conveniently.
This data is machine readable and available to anyone who seeks to do something with it. A number of clever startups and individuals have performed the necessary demographic research to arrive at something universally valuable or targeted at niche audiences.
Open urban data guidelines of note:
- Meets a public need or consumer demand
- Creates economic opportunity
- Improves public knowledge of an issue, program, government mandate, etc
So, the data has become more freely available but how does it reach the public in a way that makes it matter? Meeting the most basic criteria above, the data needs to be packaged, presented to us in such a way that it is useful and perhaps friendly enough that we would use it repeatedly. Then of course we need some type of network to deliver that information. Content presentation and network delivery are vital pieces of the puzzle and without them the data alone is just noise.
We all enjoy good content when we see it. I tried to quickly rattle off some top of mind consumer apps that I use over and over:
- HopStop – master the subway without really trying
- Yelp – good (or bad) restaurants around me right now
- Fandango – before that highly popular kids movie showtime gets sold out
- GasBuddy – ok, it’s more of a suburban thing…
- Hotel Tonight – last minute business hotels
- Seamless – urban food delivery. sadly, I don’t have it but others rave about it
There’s no reason city/government improvement apps shouldn’t provide same.
Most recently, the City of Moorhead, MN has been experiencing dangerous flood water levels and developed a very timely application on their website, called the Red River Flood monitor where residents can see exactly where the impact is to specific roads and neighborhoods.
All of these apps leverage some combination of public data, GPS location and prosumer input.
How do we inspire further development of these much needed applications? It would seem that there are no shortage of accelerator, incubator and competitions springing up around the global to energize the initiative of bringing to life powerful hidden data sets. Open Data competitions, like CleanWeb Hackathons and the NYC Open Data competition put a bounty on bright ideas that come out of pragmatic urban data mining. Fairly boring information like stormwater mitigation, air quality monitoring, crime awareness, street repair data sets become far more useful when correlated to help citizens avoid fees, travel safely or simply live better.
Now if I were standing at the platform of the subway in any given city, pull out my smartphone in an attempt use one of the aforementioned applications, ie, refresh my forgotten destination address or next subway stop, there is a good chance I won’t have network service to do so. Short of running up the stairs towards daylight and missing my train, there is not much I can do about this.
The subway is an obvious example barrier to last mile connectivity, however, there are many gaps in our infrastructure yet to be filled. How often have you been on the upper floor of a large commercial building attempting a cellphone call with a signal of barely 1 bar causing you to move to the windows or call the person back after descending the elevator. How ideal would it be to remain connected regardless of surroundings?
The list of urban connectivity dead zones goes on but there are a number of emerging technologies which will help us.
I had recently attended the NYC In-Building Wireless Conference and I was amazed at the standing-room-only crowd of building owners, technologists, lawyers and others intent on solving and capitalizing on this expensive infrastructure problem. The focus of the conference was largely on distributed antenna systems (DAS) and WiFi for general building data access and for solving problems specific to more complex venues like subways, healthcare facilities.
The NYC subway / Transit Wireless very recently celebrated the deployment of 36 new stations to provides a shared wireless infrastructure for wireless communications services for the New York City Transit Authority riders. The plan is to ultimately provide connectivity for up 277 underground subway stations by 2017. The service supports cellphone calls, WiFi data access and first responder frequencies for the busiest subway system in the world.
We need to address the wireless data infrastructure needs and fast, because according to Cisco’s Global Mobile Forecast:
- In 2012, 6B+ mobile devices generated over 10 exabytes of data
- By 2017, 10B+ mobile devices will generate over 120 exabytes of data
Video usage and the increase of machine-to- machine sensor communications will only exacerbate the issue of bandwidth constraints.
Clever engineering, creative financing and technological innovation, plus the lessons learned from extremely complex and costly environments like the NYC Subway will go a long to allowing us to access all of these awesome applications that we are growing so accustomed to.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Social distancing is becoming the new normal, at least for those of us who are heeding the Center for Disease Control’s warnings and guidelines. But if you don’t have reliable, high-speed broadband, it is impossible to engage in what is now the world’s largest telecommunity. As many schools and universities around the world (including those of my kids) are shut down, these institutions are optimistically converting to online and digital learning. However, with our current broadband layout, this movement will certainly leave many Americans behind.
Accenture analysts recently released a report calling for cities to take the lead in creating coordinated, “orchestrated” mobility ecosystems. Limiting shared services to routes that connect people with mass transit would be one way to deploy human-driven services now and to prepare for driverless service in the future. Services and schedules can be linked at the backend, and operators can, for example, automatically send more shared vehicles to a train station when the train has more passengers than usual, or tell the shared vehicles to wait for a train that is running late.
Managing urban congestion and mobility comes down to the matter of managing space. Cities are characterized by defined and restricted residential, commercial, and transportation spaces. Private autos are the most inefficient use of transportation space, and mass transit represents the most efficient use of transportation space. Getting more people out of private cars, and into shared feeder routes to and from mass transit modes is the most promising way to reduce auto traffic. Computer models show that it can be done, and we don’t need autonomous vehicles to realize the benefits of shared mobility.
The role of government, and the planning community, is perhaps to facilitate these kinds of partnerships and make it easier for serendipity to occur. While many cities mandate a portion of the development budget toward art, this will not necessarily result in an ongoing benefit to the arts community as in most cases the budget is used for public art projects versus creating opportunities for cultural programming.
Rather than relying solely on this mandate, planners might want to consider educating developers with examples and case studies about the myriad ways that artists can participate in the development process. Likewise, outreach and education for the arts community about what role they can play in projects may stimulate a dialogue that can yield great results. In this sense, the planning community can be an invaluable translator in helping all parties to discover a richer, more inspiring, common language.