Big data meets big city
May 20, 2013 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend nerdy things (papers, sites, podcasts, books, articles, whatever) about spatial and urban data, and things people are doing with them?

I'm really interesting in getting into data analysis of urban systems, and I'd love to read and learn about what's new and interesting in the area. Are there any particularly good blogs I should be following, or Twitter accounts, or any research that would be good to jump into?

I'd really love to read things that aren't trend pieces, but other than that, nothing's too obvious or too nerdy. Thank you!
posted by carbide to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
The SFPark project (using data to improve public parking in San Francisco) has a lot of information available online. I enjoyed reading its "Post-launch implementation summary and lessons learned".
posted by dreamyshade at 1:07 PM on May 20, 2013

Yes. Here is Alan Penn from UCL's Bartlett School or architecture talking about the graph mathematics that underlie street layout and and about Ikea shopping hell.
posted by rongorongo at 1:10 PM on May 20, 2013

99% invisible is a podcast that summarizes itself as being "A tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world." I just listened to the podcast they did on the Transamerica Pyramid (9/23/10) and it was very absorbing, given how opinions have changed on it in the 40 plus years since its inception.

(Kudos to my husband who tipped me off about it.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 1:11 PM on May 20, 2013

Code for America does a lot of this kind of stuff. It's like Teach for America but for coders, and they are typically doing cool little projects and apps for cities using open data.
posted by misskaz at 1:24 PM on May 20, 2013

I too have been really interested in urban planning and analysis of urban systems lately. I'm always on the lookout for more interesting data-heavy work, so I'm excited to see the responses here as well.

That said, I'll share with you the blogs and whatnot that I have been following. Not all of it is always data heavy stuff but it's usually pretty interesting and more often than not leans towards data-based analysis. A lot of it is also unabashedly pro-walkability/cycling, pro-mixed use urban, and anti-car. It seems like that's kind of the trend in the field these days, however.

-My favorite blog is Old Urbanist. He updates infrequently but it's always really good stuff.
-Per Square Mile
-The Atlantic Cities
-StreetsBlog (a little more local issues based)

I've found some of the most interesting stuff I come across via Twitter:
-Eric Fisher
-Jeff Speck

I also found this but haven't had a chance to look through it.

Mapping the Census is a favorite resource of mine.

The LiveHoods project would probably be of interest to you.
posted by Defenestrator at 1:26 PM on May 20, 2013

Open Plans is a non-profit that does a lot of really cool stuff with a number of groups. They're fantastic.

Seconding Eric Fischer and Jeff Speck.
posted by kendrak at 1:28 PM on May 20, 2013

The MIT SENSEable City Lab is all about big data meets big city. You can check out visualizations of their various projects on their web page.
posted by whatzit at 1:41 PM on May 20, 2013

Oh and the Urban Visualization Challenge from SF, Zurich, and Geneva had some really cool projects.
posted by kendrak at 2:12 PM on May 20, 2013

In terms of research, Geographic Information Systems is a field about this (though not just for urban locations). The idea, as I've seen it applied in sociological/education research, is to combine data we have with geographic data/maps. They often use software called ArcGIS. To give you an idea, there's something called geographically weighted regression, which is used to see how relationships vary spatially. For example, does the relationship between race and access to good schools (or healthcare, or fresh food, etc.) vary by geography (census tracts, zip code, metro region, etc). I don't know exactly what aspect of urban data you're interested in, but that might be a direction to start searching.

I know little about it, but I think research on urban food deserts is pretty interesting.
posted by kochenta at 2:36 PM on May 20, 2013

And this might not be exactly what you had in mind, but I think it's neat, and something you could actually play with:

The School District Demographics System, which allows you to map education and census data together throughout the US.
posted by kochenta at 2:39 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The National Center for Education Statistics STATS-DC Conference is a great source of just what you are looking for.

You also might be interested in some computer-assisted reporting projects. Look at
posted by jgirl at 3:19 PM on May 20, 2013

Certain properties about cities are scale invariant and exhibit power law or Zipf's law relations. This is much, much cooler than it sounds - this means that certain data about cities can be predicted, frighteningly accurately, regardless of the city's size, location, cultural context and even time period (a paper analyses Pre-hispanic Mexico), just by knowing the population of that city.

For example, intuitively the number of serious crimes increases as the population of a city increases, but by how much? Empirically we see there's a power law relation: Crime is proportional to (city population)^1.16. How about new patents in a city? Proportional to (city population)^1.27. To a certain extent, this depends solely on the population and is true for mostly all cities. Here is a list of more of these power law relations, which include GDP, roads per capita, total wages, gas stations, and others.

That means cities have these inherent properties, these power coefficients, that come about (arguably) regardless of the social policy we put in place, like a termite mound will have a certain shape regardless of each termite's individual actions. This is an example of emergence, the scientific study of systems that become more than the sum of their parts.

Radiolab explains this concept to the layman in a much more interesting manner than I can, and it doesn't get too technical. A publication in Nature goes a bit more in-depth while still being readable and relates it to public policy. A lot of work done on this topic is spearheaded by some astrophysicists in the Santa Fe Institute.

(Off topic: This power law relation can be seen all throughout nature, from earthquake sizes, asteroid impacts, the Pareto 80/20 principle, and so forth)
posted by spec at 4:01 PM on May 20, 2013

Also, FlowingData might be of interest to you. It's not specifically geared towards showcasing visualization of urban data but, as you can see just from scrolling the home page right now, that is a frequent theme.
posted by Defenestrator at 4:20 PM on May 20, 2013

Not totally sure whether this fits in with what you're looking for, but for the past two years, the City of Ottawa has held an app contest for developers seeing how they can make use of the city's open data database.
posted by urbanlenny at 5:02 PM on May 20, 2013

Digital Urban is the site for The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, at University College London
Human Transit has some nice data visualization based on urban transportation.
GIS and Agend-Based Modeling is all about interesting GIS stuff.
LSE Cities isn't exclusively data-driven, but also has some nice GIS stuff with an urban economics focus.
Virginia Tech and Ohio State are currently running a MOOC called TechniCity that explore(s) the sweeping changes that our cities are undergoing as a result of networks, sensors, and communication technology. --(I don't know if you can still sign up though)
posted by mcmile at 5:39 PM on May 20, 2013

This is all totally wonderful, thank you so much!

I was trying to keep the question succinct but as I'm studying data analytics, software development, and adding in GIS soon to make my architecture background as useful as possible, a number of the applied suggestions were particularly prescient. I'm very excited reading through the links.
posted by carbide at 2:34 AM on May 21, 2013

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