In The Multiplexed Metropolis, an article in the September 7 issue of The Economist, online business and finance editor Ludwig Siegele explores the impact of big data on cities. Cities are centers of social interactions, commerce, entertainment and many other human endeavors. Will the vast amounts of data generated by these activities, - properly collected, analyzed and acted upon, - lead to a kind of second electrification, transforming 21st century cities much as electricity did in the past?
“The power cables that penetrated cities in the late 19th century transformed their shape (there are no tall buildings without lifts), their transit systems, their nightlife, their sewerage (cities need a lot of pumps),” writes Siegele. “Ubiquitous data services might have impacts as wide-ranging: they could make cities more liveable, more efficient, more sustainable, perhaps more democratic.” But, he adds a note of caution: “Enthusiasts think that data services can change cities in this century as much as electricity did in the last one. They are a long way from proving their case.”
In the last few years, a growing number of initiatives have been launched in business, government and academia to help prove the case for data-driven smart cities. Last year, for example, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the formation of NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), a partnership between NY City agencies, NYU and other academic institutions, and a number of companies including IBM, Microsoft, Xerox, Cisco and Siemens. A few weeks ago, mayor Bloomberg personally welcomed the inaugural class in CUSP’s MS in Applied Urban Science and Informatics program.