How cities are like race cars

The increased availability of data means that city halls could soon look more like a Formula 1 pit.

The Economist has a nice overview of research happening that's focused on the "science of the city." It turns out that cities across the globe have similarities depending on their population size, much like organisms. Researchers are analyzing these patterns that occur in the anatomy of the city.

But scientists are becoming more and more aware of these aspects of the city thanks to the vast amounts of data that are collected by cities and made public, along with the growing numbers of IT companies that are working with cities to use technology that makes their urban areas more efficient while collecting vast amounts of data at the same time.

In The Economist piece, I found the following bit helpful for understanding how increased data and technology at the city level can help make them run more smoothly:

Yet the most immediate impact of urban data will be on how cities are managed. In a second research lab in Singapore, Mr Ratti and his colleagues are developing software to turn cities into what he calls “real-time control systems”. These combine all kinds of data feeds, including information about the location of taxis and rainfall. The city state’s transport system would benefit from being better able to match the demand and supply of taxis, particularly when it rains, which tends to happen suddenly in Singapore.

Such examples raise one question: how will data change cities? To get an idea, look at how racing cars have changed. Mechanics used to do all the fine-tuning on their vehicle before a race. Now they sit in front of big screens, monitoring the data that comes in from the hundreds of sensors attached to the car—and make adjustments in real-time. One day city hall may be as packed with screens as a Formula 1 pit.

Mayors, start your engines!

The laws of the city [The Economist]

Photo: Flickr/seng1011

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