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Urban insights can be gleaned from how we walk and talk

How do urbanites move about the city? That’s a question big data can help to analyze.

A pair of recent articles explore these facets of urban science.

As Nick Stockton explains in Wired, space syntax is the study of how humans interact with their surroundings. Through careful observation of foot traffic, data can be gleaned about whether pedestrians actually use a given sidewalk or pathway or do they walk somewhere else. The analysis can reveal that a shopping district is struggling because it’s far from public transit or that pedestrians favor well-maintained streets.

A London-based consulting firm, Space Syntax, applied these principles to revitalize Trafalgar Square. Analysis of how visitors meander about London’s famed square identified impediments that dissuaded people from lingering. The firm used the data to recommend design changes.

Similarly, MIT Technology Review reports on how computer scientists were able to analyze mobile phone usage to chart the “urban rhythm” common to all cities. According to the article, ”Every city undergoes a kind of respiration in which people converge into the center and then withdraw on a daily basis, almost like breathing.”



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