Friday, May 13, 2016

A Semester with Urban Analytics

This past semester I gave a new class at GMU entitled "Urban Analytics". In a nutshell the class was about introducing students to a broad interdisciplinary field that focuses on the use of data to study cities. More specifcally the emphasis of the class was to provide students with a understanding of what methods, tools and theory can be used to monitor, analyze and model cities. 

From my past research and also when preparing the class material,  I have come to the realization that to study cities (like many others, you know who you are) that there is no one general model, tool or dataset. Therefore, one needs to maintain a toolbox of specialized tools than can be applied to different aspects of urban problems and questions. 

The toolbox that we used in class included a variety of software such as ArcGIS, QGIS, GeoDa, SANET along with programing and scripting in Python and R to modeling  cities via UrbanSim, NetLogo and MASON. Data we used ranged from crowdsourced (e.g. volunteered geographical information) data such as from OpenStreetMap or Wikipedia, to crowd harvested (ambient geographical information) data such as Twitter and Flickr, as-well as more traditional sources of data such as the US Census.

The Urban Analytics Toolbox

As an introduction to urban analytics, the course had the following objectives:
  1. to understand the motivation for the use of data to study cities, including some historical aspects; 
  2. to learn about the variety of Urban Analytics research programs across the several disciplines (urban planning, regional science, public policy, geography, computational social science etc.), through a survey of the literature and case studies. 
  3. to understand the distinct contribution that Urban Analytics can make by providing specific insights about cities at multiple scales. 
  4. to provide the foundations for more advanced work in the area of Urban Analytics. 
As with many of my courses, students were expected to complete a end of semester project. Below is a selection of these projects which explored some aspect of urban life.

I would like to thank the students for participating in this new class. It was a fun trip.