Big Data and Urban Informatics: e-Infrastructure for Social Science Research on Sustainable Urban Systems

Project Sponsor: National Science Foundation

Project Team: Piyushimita Thakuriah (Vonu), , Nebiyou Tilahun, , Moira Zellner,, Nina Savar,

Duration: 2012-2014

Project Summary: We seek to establish a multi-disciplinary research community to generate decadal-scale data-intensive research questions on how Big Data can be leveraged for Urban Informatics. Pervasive sensing, wireless connectivity, social media and location-aware technologies and vast numbers of sensors in urban infrastructure will lead to “zettabyte” scale Big Data on cities. Urban Informatics is the design and analysis of Big Data to create the next generation of tools and services for improved social science research on urban decision-making and citizen engagement.

The research community will be organized around creating an Urban Informatics E-Infrastructure (UIE) for social science research. UIE will consist of three components: a Big Data resource, Urban Informatics Analysis Tools to enable social science research on urban systems, and Emerging Technologies to facilitate the use of the e-infrastructure by researchers. The disciplines involved, as reflected in the organizing committee, are urban planning, geography, public administration and management, civil engineering and computer science.

By interweaving these components from a multi-disciplinary perspective to create the e-infrastructure, the research community will stimulate data-intensive research on urban modeling, data mining and knowledge discovery to explore urban dynamics. Agent-Based Modeling, large-scale simulations, and research on unique data management and multi-sensor sensor fusion that arises with urban Big Data will be encouraged. Innovations on urban sensing and new directions in community-based information generation will inspire questions on participatory urban planning, and models of community engagement and sustainable choices regarding transportation, green infrastructure, land development and water use.

At the core of this research is the Big Data resource which will include synthetic (modeled) content from urban models and user-generated content from neighborhood-level community sensing systems and volunteers. These are fused together with data streams from traditional sources such as surveys and administrative data, as well as myriad sensors in the urban infrastructure.

Broader Impacts: The United Nations reported that in 2008, for the first time in history, more than half the world population, 3.3 billion people, was living in urban areas, a number that is expected to increase to almost 5 billion by 2030. The stresses and risks associated with this trend, in terms of climate change, ecological impacts, fossil-fuel use, pollution, congestion, traffic safety; social inequities and disparities in access to services and resources; and costs and overall inefficiencies of urban systems drives the need for smart, connected and informed Big Data systems that are strongly linked to urban planning and management processes. We are motivated by concerns for sustainability, social equity and efficiency and resource management, and ways in which Urban Informatics may lead to insights and potential solutions. Many urban areas around the world have implemented Intelligent Transportation Systems, smart ecosystem and energy management systems in various degrees; however, these are likely to be unconnected to each other and to planning processes.

The objective of this project is to stimulate a multi-disciplinary research area on ways in which urban systems of the future can be designed, planned, managed and used more sustainably, efficiently and equitably. The overall vision is to transform urban planning and management practice by stimulating real-world information infrastructures that are timely, seamlessly interconnected, reaches and empowers people and local communities, and leverages interdisciplinary knowledge and feedback from people living in urban areas.

Specific Research: The major task is to develop a conceptual model for a Urban Informatics E-Infrastructure (UIE) for social science research. The project will involve hosting two two-day workshops. The overall goal of the workshops will be to present advances in such activities and to stimulate discussions on how the e-infrastructure should be built.

Anticipated outcomes include two journal special issues; a future research and activity whitepaper; and an e-infrastructure needs assessment report which will be posted on a website. Future research projects stimulated could provide social scientists with the data, tools and understanding of urban Big Data for sustainable outcomes.

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