Life in the City Is Essentially One Giant Math Problem

Smithsonian Magazine : “A new science—so new it doesn’t have its own journal, or even an agreed-upon name—is exploring these laws. We will call it “quantitative urbanism.” It’s an effort to reduce to mathematical formulas the chaotic, exuberant, extravagant nature of one of humanity’s oldest and most important inventions, the city.
The systematic study of cities dates back at least to the Greek historian Herodotus. In the early 20th century, scientific disciplines emerged around specific aspects of urban development: zoning theory, public health and sanitation, transit and traffic engineering. By the 1960s, the urban-planning writers Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte used New York as their laboratory to study the street life of neighborhoods, the walking patterns of Midtown pedestrians, the way people gathered and sat in open spaces. But their judgments were generally aesthetic and intuitive…
Only in the past decade has the ability to collect and analyze information about the movement of people begun to catch up to the size and complexity of the modern metropolis itself…
Deep mathematical principles underlie even such seemingly random and historically contingent facts as the distribution of the sizes of cities within a country. There is, typically, one largest city, whose population is twice that of the second-largest, and three times the third-largest, and increasing numbers of smaller cities whose sizes also fall into a predictable pattern. This principle is known as Zipf’s law, which applies across a wide range of phenomena…”

Guide to Social Innovation

Social InnovationForeword of European Commission Guide on Social Innovation: “Social innovation is in the mouths of many today, at policy level and on the ground. It is not new as such: people have always tried to find new solutions for pressing social needs. But a number of factors have spurred its development recently.
There is, of course, a link with the current crisis and the severe employment and social consequences it has for many of Europe’s citizens. On top of that, the ageing of Europe’s population, fierce global competition and climate change became burning societal challenges. The sustainability and adequacy of Europe’s health and social security systems as well as social policies in general is at stake. This means we need to have a fresh look at social, health and employment policies, but also at education, training and skills development, business support, industrial policy, urban development, etc., to ensure socially and environmentally sustainable growth, jobs and quality of life in Europe.”

Innovations in American Government Award

Press Release: “Today the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University announced the Top 25 programs in this year’s Innovations in American Government Award competition. These government initiatives represent the dedicated efforts of city, state, federal, and tribal governments and address a host of policy issues including crime prevention, economic development, environmental and community revitalization, employment, education, and health care. Selected by a cohort of policy experts, researchers, and practitioners, four finalists and one winner of the Innovations in American Government Award will be announced in the fall. A full list of the Top 25 programs is available here.
A Culture of Innovation
A number of this year’s Top 25 programs foster a new culture of innovation through online collaboration and crowdsourcing. Signaling a new trend in government, these programs encourage the generation of smart solutions to existing and seemingly intractable public policy problems. LAUNCH—a partnership among NASA, USAID, the State Department, and NIKE—identifies and scales up promising global sustainability innovations created by individual citizens and organizations. The General Services Administration’s uses crowdsourcing contests to solve government issues: government agencies post challenges, and the broader American public is awarded for submitting winning ideas. The Department of Transportation’s IdeaHub also uses an online platform to encourage its employees to communicate new ideas for making the department more adaptable and enterprising.”

Frameworks for a Location–Enabled Society

Annual CGA Conference “Location-enabled devices are weaving “smart grids” and building “smart cities;” they allow people to discover a friend in a shopping mall, catch a bus at its next stop, check surrounding air quality while walking down a street, or avoid a rain storm on a tourist route – now or in the near future. And increasingly they allow those who provide services to track, whether we are walking past stores on the street or seeking help in a natural disaster.
The Centre for Spatial Law and Policy based in Washington, DC, the Center for Geographic Analysis, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University are co-hosting a two-day program examining the legal and policy issues that will impact geospatial technologies and the development of location-enabled societies. The event will take place at Harvard University on May 2-3, 2013…The goal is to explore the different dimensions of policy and legal concerns in geospatial technology applications, and to begin in creating a policy and legal framework for a location-enabled society. Download the conference program brochure.
Live Webcast:

Stream videos at Ustream

New book: Disasters and the Networked Economy

booksBook description: “Mainstream quantitative analysis and simulations are fraught with difficulties and are intrinsically unable to deal appropriately with long-term macroeconomic effects of disasters. In this new book, J.M. Albala-Bertrand develops the themes introduced in his past book, The Political Economy of Large Natural Disasters (Clarendon Press, 1993), to show that societal networking and disaster localization constitute part of an essential framework to understand disaster effects and responses.
The author’s last book argued that disasters were a problem of development, rather than a problem for development. This volume takes the argument forward both in terms of the macroeconomic effects of disaster and development policy, arguing that economy and society are not inert objects, but living organisms. Using a framework based on societal networking and the economic localization of disasters, the author shows that societal functionality (defined as the capacity of a system to survive, reproduce and develop) is unlikely to be impaired by natural disasters.”

Data-Driven Public Transport Planning

CaptureDavid Talbot in MIT Technology Review: “Researchers at IBM, using movement data collected from millions of cell-phone users in Ivory Coast in West Africa, have developed a new model for optimizing an urban transportation system….
While the results were preliminary, they point to the new ways that urban planners can use cell-phone data to design infrastructure, says Francesco Calabrese, a researcher at IBM’s research lab in Dublin, and a coauthor of a paper on the work. “This represents a new front with a potentially large impact on improving urban transportation systems,” he says. “People with cell phones can serve as sensors and be the building blocks of development efforts.”
The IBM work was done as part of a research challenge dubbed Data for Development, in which the telecom giant Orange released 2.5 billion call records from five million cell-phone users in Ivory Coast. The records were gathered between December 2011 and April 2012. The data release is the largest of its kind ever done. The records were cleaned to prevent anyone identifying the users, but they still include useful information about these users’ movements. The IBM paper is one of scores being aired later this week at a conference at MIT.”

Cybersecurity Issues in Social Media and Crowdsourcing

trustworthy_thumbWilson Center: ” The Commons Lab today released a new policy memo exploring the vulnerabilities facing the widespread use and acceptance of social media and crowdsourcing. This is the second publication in the project’s policy memo series.
Using real-world examples, security expert George Chamales describes the most-pressing cybersecurity vulnerabilities in this space and calls for the development of best practices to address these vulnerabilities, ultimately concluding that it is possible for institutions to develop trust in the emerging technologies. From the memo’s executive summary:
Individuals and organizations interested in using social media and crowdsourcing currently lack two key sets of information: a systematic assessment of the vulnerabilities in these technologies and a comprehensive set of best practices describing how to address those vulnerabilities. Identifying those vulnerabilities and developing those best practices are necessary to address a growing number of incidents ranging from innocent mistakes to targeted attacks that have claimed lives and cost millions of dollars.
Click here to read the full memo on Scribd.

"Imagery to the Crowd"

Description: “The Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU), a division within the Office of the Geographer and Global Issues at the U.S. Department of State, is working to increase the availability of spatial data in areas experiencing humanitarian emergencies. Built from a crowdsourcing model, the new “Imagery to the Crowd” process publishes high-resolution commercial satellite imagery, purchased by the Unites States Government, in a web-based format that can be easily mapped by volunteers.
The digital map data generated by the volunteers are stored in a database maintained by OpenStreetMap (OSM), a UK-registered non-profit foundation, under a license that ensures the data are freely available and open for a range of uses ( Inspired by the success of the OSM mapping effort after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the Imagery to the Crowd process harnesses the combined power of satellite imagery and the volunteer mapping community to help aid agencies provide informed and effective humanitarian assistance, and plan recovery and development activities.
5-minute Ignite Talk about Imagery to the Crowd:

Toward an Ecological Model of Research and Development

Ben Schneiderman, the founding director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab,  in The Atlantic: “The choice between basic and applied research is a false one….The belief that basic or pure research lays the foundation for applied research was fixed in science policy circles by Vannevar Bush’s 1945 report on Science: The Endless Frontier. Unfortunately, his unsubstantiated beliefs have remained attractive to powerful advocates of basic research who seek funding for projects that may or may not advance innovation and economic growth. Shifting the policy agenda to recognize that applied research goals often trigger more effective basic research could accelerate both applied and basic research….the highest payoffs often come when there is a healthy interaction of basic and applied research (Figure 3). This ecological model also suggests that basic and applied research are embedded in a rich context of large development projects and continuing efforts to refine production & operations.”

Open Data Research Announced

WWW Foundation Press Release:  “Speaking at an Open Government Partnership reception last night in London, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web Foundation (Web Foundation) and inventor of the Web, unveiled details of the first ever in-depth study into how the power of open data could be harnessed to tackle social challenges in the developing world. The 14 country study is funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and will be overseen by the Web Foundation’s world-leading open data experts. An interim progress update will be made at an October 2013 meeting of the Open Government Partnership, with in-depth results expected in 2014…

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web Foundation and inventor of the Web said:

“Open Data, accessed via a free and open Web, has the potential to create a better world. However, best practice in London or New York is not necessarily best practice in Lima or Nairobi.  The Web Foundation’s research will help to ensure that Open Data initiatives in the developing world will unlock real improvements in citizens’ day-to-day lives.”

José M. Alonso, program manager at the World Wide Web Foundation, added:

“Through this study, the Web Foundation hopes not only to contribute to global understanding of open data, but also to cultivate the ability of developing world researchers and development workers to understand and apply open data for themselves.”

Further details on the project, including case study outlines are available here: