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2014 Annual Meeting: Big Data and Effective Urbanization

"For the first time in history, more than half of the world's population lives in urban areas," notes Steven Koonin, director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University. Koonin was one of the speakers at the seminar titled, "A New Era for Urban Research: Open Data and Big Computation," Saturday, Feb. 15 at the 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting.

In Koonin's talk, "The Promise of Urban Science," he discussed the possibilities and challenges of helping cities deliver services effectively, efficiently and sustainably while also keeping citizens safe, healthy, prosperous and well-informed.

AAAS Member Central (AAASMC): What was the overarching scope of your presentation?
Steven Koonin: The ways in which new sources of information about the urban infrastructure, environment, and populace are providing a whole new view of cities. How this data can yield new scientific insights into urban systems. And how this data can be used to benefit the city government, citizens and the private sector.

I enumerated and gave examples of the diverse sources of urban data, discussed some of the big questions in urban science and some illustrative applications. [I also] discuss some of the challenges in acquiring, integrating and using data.

AAASMC: Open data implies open access to the data. Do you envision this data being used in public policy hearings? How else can you see data being used effectively?
Koonin: Uses beyond policy are in operations (make the buses run better!) and urban planning. Beyond open data, there are confidential city data, proprietary corporate data, and data [that] academics generate.

AAASMC: In your  talk you mentioned "a new, interdisciplinary science approach to understanding cities." Which disciplines can look forward to these opportunities, and how can they serve them?
Koonin: We need researchers who know about sensors, about informatics (databases, GIS, visualization, modeling, ...), about the urban domains (transport engineers, civil engineers, epidemiologists, ...) and about people (sociologists, behavioral experts, political scientists, economists, ...).

AAASMC: What was your take-home message?
Koonin: Cities are rapidly becoming "instrumented." There are tremendous opportunities to use the resulting data to advance basic and applied science in service of public and private good.


Grace Conyers