Cities and Big Data: Social oil with an unknown future

Sharing Big Data will make our cities grow, but because of the implications of this change of paradigm, its consequences deserve deep study.

A 2011 World Economic Forum report described consumer data as “the new oilthat will emerge to be a “new asset class touching all aspects of society”. Because we are at the beginning of the era of big data citizens are only considered as a rich source of data, but none of it is used to improve their daily life further than with some playful apps.

There is a clear lack of research on the implications of the new relationship between big data, citizens, and future design and management of cities. Just after a quick literature review we already can appreciate how wrong many planning professionals and, particularly, thinkers have been in supposing that follow free market principles to determine the distribution of resources, and to rule the market, is the only true path for planning and decision making, at least if we look at it through American pragmatism, empiricism.

Humanity is facing major challenges and transformations such as urbanization, climate change, demographic change, globalization, transformation of consumption‐oriented economies towards energy‐efficient and sustainable economies, and of course big data technology implications.

Nevertheless, only one aspect of our Future cities design is being developed: the Software technology to improve the efficiency of city systems management, something that has resulted in several collaborations and agreements between software development companies and town halls. The best-known example of these agreements could be Think Global- The City Operating System®. Think Global is the union of several technology firms who, through CISCO Systems, have focused in sensorizing both the city and its citizens, to provide town halls with the necessary data to save in management resources and waste disposal. But there are yet no examples in which interdisciplinary expert academic teams, town halls and companies work together.

Nevertheless, Software Corporations, for example the big IBM Corporation, are perfectly aware that this will change in the near future, and have been working for some years towards a new city design method, already collaborating with Town Halls, in their case the City of Paris Town Hall. So, while in their case the City of Paris Town Hall, Sylvie Spalmacin, from the IBM Smarter cities Department defends really loud in the media that “Social data from social media analysis will help urban planners designing from the citizens points of view”, computer scientists, urban planners, architects and sociologists, are being left aside to work together with Town Halls and Governments, and along with private corporations.

Current city planning methods are being developed separately by urban planners-architects, software industry and Computer Science Departments. This disconnection has to be remedied. All perspectives in city design, systems, and app development should be studied; yet this should be done without forgetting what is the basis of it all, citizens and how they perceive their city.

One Comment

  1. Possibly for citizens it has an element of lack of data protection about it. Even if a system is developed to reassure citizens their privacy is maintained, trust is very hard to earn with Big Data.

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