C. Catlett
By the year 2030, the World Health Organization estimates that six out of every ten people on Earth will live in cities. In developing countries, such as China and India, booming populations and economic shifts will soon require the construction of massive new urban areas -- the equivalent of 20 New York Cities in China alone. In order to avoid the slums, pollution, and unhealthy conditions of many cities today, new design and management strategies must be developed to prepare for this urgent growth.
Fortunately, we are also at the dawn of a new era for urban research, fed by rapidly expanding amounts of city data. Research centers such as our Urban Center for Computation and Data at the Computation Institute -- a joint initiative of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory -- are at the frontier of using this valuable information to create new approaches for understanding and improving cities.
Existing cities also need to collect more data about themselves, and do more with that information to improve the lives of their residents. Sensor networks, such as the UrbanCCD’s Array of Things in Chicago, will be able to collect measurements on the environment, infrastructure, and traffic in higher time and space resolution than ever before, offering a “fitness tracker” for urban life. This more detailed data can help governments better allocate resources to areas in need, including using predictive analytics to address problems before they occur.
Open release of this data to the public will empower citizens to develop their own solutions and applications that improve city life. Our Plenar.io platform makes the data released by cities, federal agencies, and other sources more accessible than ever, allowing users to simply find all data available for the area of their choice without wading through complex and disparate spreadsheets. Custom dashboards built upon this platform will enable local governments and citizen groups to access and work with large, continually refreshed data without heavy investment in IT resources and personnel.
Urban designers and architects now need powerful computational tools that they can use to plan new developments on the scale of neighborhoods or entire cities. Advanced computer models -- such as our LakeSim platform -- can simulate the long-term interplay of energy, transportation, wastewater, and other infrastructure systems, along with social and economic processes, allowing designers to examine different scenarios with a single click. These capabilities will drive the design of more energy-efficient and livable cities that are resilient to climate change and other perturbations.
To make these visions reality, partnership is essential. Social scientists must work with computer scientists, academics must work with governments, and governments must work with their residents to insure that the cities of the future realize this new potential. The Urban Sciences Research Coordination Network, overseen by UrbanCCD, brings these groups together to forge unique collaborations, from agent-based modeling of urban health care interventions to projects on education, energy, and community vitality.
All of these efforts provide promising new approaches to understanding, designing, and improving the world’s cities. Computation and data are not just valuable resources, but a common language that can unite research disciplines, public institutions, and residents in efforts to make our rapidly urbanizing world more livable, healthy, and efficient.

- Charlie Catlett, Director, Urban Center for Computation and Data