New program wants to improve cities with the power of tweets and Flickr uploads

Marissa Clifford at Curbed: “Want to watch street life unfold outside of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, long after it’s closed for the day? Or uncover the hidden ways both tourists and locals alike use Manhattan’s most famous landmarks? Now you can, all thanks to the power of data.

Urban Pulse, open-source software developed at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, uses data to create a map that visualizes how people move through cities. From Urban Pulse’s interface, you can observe, for example, how tourists navigate Central Park.

Sociologists Robert Park and Ernest Burgess, who worked in the early years of the 20th century, developed a theory of urban environments that used the human body as an organizing analogy: They likened the mundane processes of everyday urban life (things like phone calls and taxi rides) to the heartbeat. Urban Pulse brings that analogy into the 21st century, replacing statistics about phone calls with social media and other digital data.

Essentially, Urban Pulse is a dynamic, comparative heat map. And the hot spots on the map are made up of what the research team dubbed “pulses” and “beats,” terminology that was inspired by Park and Burgess’s original analogy.

But Urban Pulse’s findings don’t simply reinforce what we already know about cities. By pinpointing how, when, and by whom city spaces are most often used, the data has the power to upend our preconceptions about civic space. This has potentially far-reaching implications for urban planners, architects, and city planners.

But what is a “pulse?” And where is that social media data coming from? Simply put, a pulse is a graphic representation of the kinds of open source data that serve as proxies for human activity, like tweets and Flickr uploads. Though Urban Pulse currently only uses data from Flickr and Twitter, it is free to download on GitHub, and its creators are hoping to see a wider variety of data types input by the open source community….(More)”.