Does More Data Equal Better Cities?

boston skylineBoston skyline photo via iStockphoto


Recently, The Economist published a piece touting the ways in which cities could be improved through the use of “Big Data.” In the piece, the tone is decidedly hopeful as the author notes that “[c]ities could be run with the sort of finely tuned mix of technology and performance associated with Formula 1 racing cars.” And numerous researchers around the globe — the article highlights the work at MIT, NYU, the Santa Fe Institute, and University College London — are working to that goal.

“The lack of good numbers used to limit such studies. Now data abound. The United Nations and other [organizations] make most of their statistics freely available. Data have also become more comparable between cities and even between countries. Most important, transport and telecoms networks, and social media, are spawning new data as a free by-product” … “Still, the deluge of urban data is likely to have a big impact. Some academics such as Michael Batty, the director of CASA, see a real prospect of [synthesizing] these patterns and regularities into a “science of the city”, much like physics or biology.”

Some of the findings presented here are relatively well-known to policy wonks already (i.e. cities foster the exchange of ideas and that urbanites consume less and produce more), and it seems that most of the data might be used to solve problems that might be broadly understood as operational issues. In a number of ways, it’s easier to solve issues surrounding parking and traffic than it is to come to a consensus on adopting policies that address issues surrounding social justice and the like.

My question to you, dear reader, is this: What problems in Boston would you like to see solved with the use of “Big Data”?