January 30, 2015
I attended an interesting research seminar led by Anthony Townsend yesterday at NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (conveniently located in downtown Brooklyn). Professor Townsend is affiliated to NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management. He discussed his recent book, Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia. Townsend argued that the 21st century will be defined by two global trends – urbanization of the world’s population, and ubiquitous computing. He traced the origins of the “smart cities” movement, its goals and the problems it faces.
As noted on Amazon, the book argues that
cities worldwide are deploying technology to address both the timeless challenges of government and the mounting problems posed by human settlements of previously unimaginable size and complexity. In Chicago, GPS sensors on snow plows feed a real-time “plow tracker” map that everyone can access. In Zaragoza, Spain, a “citizen card” can get you on the free city-wide Wi-Fi network, unlock a bike share, check a book out of the library, and pay for your bus ride home. In New York, a guerrilla group of citizen-scientists installed sensors in local sewers to alert you when stormwater runoff overwhelms the system, dumping waste into local waterways.
While Townsend’s talk did not apply his thesis to urban housing and his book only touches on it, it is certainly worth thinking through how Big Data can help provide more housing and better housing in big cities.
Housing is as “unvirtual,” or perhaps as “real,” a good as a good can be. But businesses such as Airbnb show how the virtual and the real can combine into something quite new. Obviously Airbnb does not solve many housing problems for residents of cities, but it does demonstrate that there is a brave new world ahead. Housing policymakers should try to discern what it is going to look like and how it can be harnessed as a force of civic good.| Permalink