Will the cities of tomorrow be built on a foundation of data and computation? Among the CI-related events at the 2013 University of Chicago Alumni Weekend was a panel discussing the growing role of data-driven urban policy, featuring Urban Center for Computation and Data director Charlie Catlett, Dean of the Harris School of Public Policy Colm O’Muircheartaigh and Lewis-Sebring Distinguished Service Professor Stephen W. Raudenbush.

In his remarks, Catlett talks about the current window of opportunity for studying cities, produced by the dramatic expansion from narrow, outdated data snapshots to constantly updated streams of open data available to researchers and the public.

“The new opportunity that we have in Chicago is that the city has taken the lead…in publishing data about the city: business permits, food safety inspections, 311 calls, crimes,” Catlett said. “So for the first time ever, if you’re a social scientist, economist, somebody who studies cities, you can actually get real time data from the city of Chicago and begin to study what’s happening in the city right now, not what was happening over the last 20 years or so. The ultimate goal is to be able to ask the question ‘What should we do now?’ as opposed to looking back and saying ‘What should we have done 10 years ago?’”

In response to a question about the insights to be found in large datasets, Catlett also used a colorful metaphor: “As you get to volumes of data, you start to see patterns that you wouldn’t see if you were closer; in a similar way that crop circles aren’t visible if you’re on the ground, but as you get higher up you start to see them.”

The video of the panel is also available on YouTube.