N.Y.’s Vaccine Websites Weren’t Working. He Built a New One for $50.


Sharon Otterman at New York Times: “Huge Ma, a 31-year-old software engineer for Airbnb, was stunned when he tried to make a coronavirus vaccine appointment for his mother in early January and saw that there were dozens of websites to check, each with its own sign-up protocol. The city and state appointment systems were completely distinct.

“There has to be a better way,” he said he remembered thinking.

So, he developed one. In less than two weeks, he launched TurboVax, a free website that compiles availability from the three main city and state New York vaccine systems and sends the information in real time to Twitter. It cost Mr. Ma less than $50 to build, yet it offers an easier way to spot appointments than the city and state’s official systems do.

“It’s sort of become a challenge to myself, to prove what one person with time and a little motivation can do,” he said last week. “This wasn’t a priority for governments, which was unfortunate. But everyone has a role to play in the pandemic, and I’m just doing the very little that I can to make it a little bit easier.”

Supply shortages and problems with access to vaccination appointments have been some of the barriers to the equitable distribution of the vaccine in New York City and across the United States, officials have acknowledged….(More)”.

Spatial information and the legibility of urban form: Big data in urban morphology


Paper by Geoff Boeing: “Urban planning and morphology have relied on analytical cartography and visual communication tools for centuries to illustrate spatial patterns, conceptualize proposed designs, compare alternatives, and engage the public. Classic urban form visualizations – from Giambattista Nolli’s ichnographic maps of Rome to Allan Jacobs’s figure-ground diagrams of city streets – have compressed physical urban complexity into easily comprehensible information artifacts. Today we can enhance these traditional workflows through the Smart Cities paradigm of understanding cities via user-generated content and harvested data in an information management context. New spatial technology platforms and big data offer new lenses to understand, evaluate, monitor, and manage urban form and evolution. This paper builds on the theoretical framework of visual cultures in urban planning and morphology to introduce and situate computational data science processes for exploring urban fabric patterns and spatial order. It demonstrates these workflows with OSMnx and data from OpenStreetMap, a collaborative spatial information system and mapping platform, to examine street network patterns, orientations, and configurations in different study sites around the world, considering what these reveal about the urban fabric. The age of ubiquitous urban data and computational toolkits opens up a new era of worldwide urban form analysis from integrated quantitative and qualitative perspectives….(More)”.

The Rise of Urban Commons


Blogpost by Alessandra Quarta and Antonio Vercellone: “In the last ten years, the concept of the commons became popular in social studies and political activism and in some countries domestic lawyers have shared the interest for this notion. Even if an (existing or proposed) statutory definition of the commons is still very rare, lawyers get familiar with the concept of the commons through the filter of property law, where such a concept has been quite discredited. In fact, approaching property law, many students of different legal traditions learn the origins of property rights revolving on the “tragedy of the commons”, the “parable” made famous by Garrett Hardin in the late nineteen-sixties. According to this widespread narrative, the impossibility to avoid the over-exploitation of those resources managed through an open-access regime determines the necessity of allocating private property rights. In this classic argument, the commons appear in a negative light: they represent the impossibility for a community to manage shared resources without concentrating all the decision-making powers in the hand of a single owner or of a central government. Moreover, they represent the wasteful inefficiency of the Feudal World.

This vision has dominated social and economic studies until 1998, when Elinor Ostrom published her famous book Governing the commons, offering the results of her research on resources managed by communities in different parts of the world. Ostrom, awarded with the Nobel Prize in 2009, demonstrated that the commons are not necessarily a tragedy and a place of no-law. In fact, local communities generally define principles for their government and sharing in a resilient way avoiding the tragedy to occur. Moreover, Ostrom defined a set of principles for checking if the commons are managed efficiently and can compete with both private and public arrangements of resource management.

Later on, under an institutional perspective, the commons became the tool of contestation of political and economic mainstream dogmas, including the unquestionable efficiency of both the market and private property in the allocation of resources. The research of new tools for managing resources has been carried out in several experimentations that generally occurs at the local and urban level: scholars and practitioners define these experiences as ‘urban commons’….(More)”.

Nowcasting Gentrification Using Airbnb Data


Paper by Shomik Jain, Davide Proserpio, Giovanni Quattrone, and Daniele Quercia: “There is a rumbling debate over the impact of gentrification: presumed gentrifiers have been the target of protests and attacks in some cities, while they have been welcome as generators of new jobs and taxes in others. Census data fails to measure neighborhood change in real-time since it is usually updated every ten years. This work shows that Airbnb data can be used to quantify and track neighborhood changes. Specifically, we consider both structured data (e.g. number of listings, number of reviews, listing information) and unstructured data (e.g. user-generated reviews processed with natural language processing and machine learning algorithms) for three major cities, New York City (US), Los Angeles (US), and Greater London (UK). We find that Airbnb data (especially its unstructured part) appears to nowcast neighborhood gentrification, measured as changes in housing affordability and demographics. Overall, our results suggest that user-generated data from online platforms can be used to create socioeconomic indices to complement traditional measures that are less granular, not in real-time, and more costly to obtain….(More)”.

An Open Data Team Experiments with a New Way to Tell City Stories


Article by  Sean Finnan: “Can you see me?” says Mark Linnane, over Zoom, as he walks around a plastic structure on the floor of an office at Maynooth University. “That gives you some sense of the size of it. It’s 3.5 metres by 2.”

Linnane trails his laptop’s webcam over the surface of the off-white 3D model, giving a birds-eye view of tens of thousands of tiny buildings, the trails of roads and the clear pathway of the Liffey.

This replica of the heart of the city from Phoenix Park to Dublin Port was created to scale by the university’s Building City Dashboards team, using data from the Ordnance Survey Ireland.

In the five years since they started to grapple with the question of how to present data about the city in an engaging and accessible way, the team has experimented with virtual reality, and augmented reality – and most recently, with this new form of mapping, which blends the lego-like miniature of Dublin’s centre with changeable data projected on.

This could really come into its own as a public exhibit if they start to tell meaningful data-driven and empirical stories, says Linnane, a digital exhibition developer at Maynooth University.

Stories that are “relevant in terms of the everyday daily lives of people who will be coming to see it”, he says.

Layers of Meaning

Getting the projector that throws the visualisations onto the model to work right was Linnane’s job, he says.

He had to mesh the Ordnance Survey data with others that showed building heights for example. “Every single building down to the sheds in someone’s garden have a unique identifier,” says Linnane.

Projectors are built to project onto flat surfaces and not 3D models so that had to be finessed, too, he says. “Every step on the way was a new development. There wasn’t really a process there before.”

The printed 3D model shows 7km by 4km of Dublin and 122,355 structures, says Linnane. That includes bigger buildings but also small outbuildings, railway platforms, public toilets and glasshouses – all mocked up and serving as a canvas for a kaleidoscope of data.

“We’re just projecting data on to it and seeing what’s going on with that,” says Rob Kitchin, principal investigator at Maynooth University’s Programmable City project….(More)”

Image of model courtesy of Mark Linnane.

CommunityClick: Capturing and Reporting Community Feedback from Town Halls to Improve Inclusivity


Paper by Mahmood Jasim: “Local governments still depend on traditional town halls for community consultation, despite problems such as a lack of inclusive participation for attendees and difficulty for civic organizers to capture attendees’ feedback in reports. Building on a formative study with 66 town hall attendees and 20 organizers, we designed and developed CommunityClick, a community sourcing system that captures attendees’ feedback in an inclusive manner and enables organizers to author more comprehensive reports. During the meeting, in addition to recording meeting audio to capture vocal attendees’ feedback, we modify iClickers to give voice to reticent attendees by allowing them to provide real-time feedback beyond a binary signal. This information then automatically feeds into a meeting transcript augmented with attendees’ feedback and organizers’ tags. The augmented transcript along with a feedback-weighted summary of the transcript generated from text analysis methods is incorporated into an interactive authoring tool for organizers to write reports. From a field experiment at a town hall meeting, we demonstrate how CommunityClick can improve inclusivity by providing multiple avenues for attendees to share opinions. Additionally, interviews with eight expert organizers demonstrate CommunityClick’s utility in creating more comprehensive and accurate reports to inform critical civic decision-making. We discuss the possibility of integrating CommunityClick with town hall meetings in the future as well as expanding to other domains….(More)”.

Participation and the pandemic: how planners are keeping democracy alive, online


Viewpoint by Dan Milz and Curt D. Gervich: “….The COVID-19 pandemic has paved the way for a multitude of experiments in e-democracy as local governments strive to continue to hold public meetings; make and implement plans; issue permits, variances and zoning decisions; and gather public input while under quarantine. This paper anecdotally discusses the role of online participatory technologies (OPTs) during this time.

Amidst the obvious impacts, COVID-19 also represents a threat to public participation. Because meeting in person is too risky, local leaders are cautious about hosting meetings in which citizens, government agents and elected officials gather together in one place. Consequently, municipal and county governments, among others, are taking the public’s business online. The purpose of this Viewpoint is to jump-start a conversation about how we prepare planners for a future in which in-person meetings are not guaranteed and how planners might continue to incorporate new technologies when face-to-face meetings resume….(More)”.

Co-creation applied to public policy: a case study on collaborative policies for the platform economy in the city of Barcelona


Paper by Mayo Fuster Morell & Enric Senabre Hidalgo: “This paper addresses how far co-creation methodologies can be applied to policy-making innovation in the platform economy. The driving question is how co-creation collaboration-based policy-making can increase diversity and strengthen the participation of actors. The analysis is based on a three-year case study on the platform economy in Barcelona, describing how co-creation dynamics contributed to the participatory definition of local public policies and agenda. The methodology is based on participatory design techniques, involving participant observation and content analysis. Results indicate that co-creation can increase participation diversity aligning academic, economic, and social viewpoints in policy innovation from a quadruple helix perspective. In addition, collaboration schemes assist in engaging a wide diversity of participants in the policy ideation process which, in this case, resulted in 87 new policy measures, with contributions from more than 300 people of different backgrounds and perspectives. The case study demonstrates the value of a cycle of collaboration going beyond mere symbolic engagement or citizen support to public policy-making. It further shows the importance of combining co-creation with methods of action research, strategic planning and knowledge management, as well as with face-to-face interactions and online channels….(More)”.

Mapping urban temperature using crowd-sensing data and machine learning


Paper by Marius Zumwald, Benedikt Knüsel, David N.Bresch and Reto Knutti: :”Understanding the patterns of urban temperature a high spatial and temporal resolution is of large importance for urban heat adaptation and mitigation. Machine learning offers promising tools for high-resolution modeling of urban heat, but it requires large amounts of data. Measurements from official weather stations are too sparse but could be complemented by crowd-sensed measurements from citizen weather stations (CWS). Here we present an approach to model urban temperature using the quantile regression forest algorithm and CWS, open government and remote sensing data. The analysis is based on data from 691 sensors in the city of Zurich (Switzerland) during a heat wave using data from for 25-30th June 2019. We trained the model using hourly data from for 25-29th June (n = 71,837) and evaluate the model using data from June 30th (n = 14,105). Based on the model, spatiotemporal temperature maps of 10 × 10 m resolution were produced. We demonstrate that our approach can accurately map urban heat at high spatial and temporal resolution without additional measurement infrastructure. We furthermore critically discuss and spatially map estimated prediction and extrapolation uncertainty. Our approach is able to inform highly localized urban policy and decision-making….(More)”.

Silicon Valley’s next goal is 3D maps of the world — made by us


Tim Bradshaw at the Financial Times: “When technology transformed the camera, the shift from film to digital sensors was just the beginning. As standalone cameras were absorbed into our phones, they gained software smarts, enabling them not only to capture light but also to understand the contents of a photo and even recognise people in it.

A similar transformation is now starting to happen to maps — and it too is powered by those advances in camera technology. In the next 20 years, our collective understanding of a “map” will be unrecognisable from the familiar grid of roads and places that has endured even as the A-Z street atlas has been supplanted by Google Maps.

Before long, countless objects and places will be captured and recreated in 3D digital models that we can view through our phones or even, at some stage, on headsets. This digital world might be populated by our avatars, turned into a playing field for new kinds of games or used to discover routes, buildings and services around us. 

Nobody seems sure yet what the killer app for this “digital twin” of Planet Earth might be, but that hasn’t stopped Silicon Valley from racing to build it anyway. Facebook, Apple, Google and Microsoft, as well as the developers of Snapchat and Pokémon Go, are all hoping to bring this “mirrorworld” to life, as a precursor to the augmented-reality (AR) glasses that many in tech see as the next big thing.

To place virtual objects in our world, our devices need to know the textures and contours of their surroundings, which GPS cannot see. But instead of sending out cars with protruding cameras to scan the world, as Google did to build Street View over the past decade and a half, these maps will be plotted by hundreds of millions of users like you and me. The question is whether we even realise that we have been dragooned into Silicon Valley’s army of cartographers. They cannot do it without us.

This month, Google said it would ask Maps users to upload photos to Street View using their smartphones for the first time. Only handsets running its AR software can contribute.  As Michael Abrash, chief scientist at Facebook’s Oculus headset unit, recently told Fast Company magazine: “Crowdsourcing has to be the primary way that this works. There is no other way to scale.”…(More)”.