Steven E. Koonin
Center for Urban Science and Progress
New York City’s Center for Urban Science and Progress is a new research and education center for urban informatics that is engaging public and private partners to gather urban data and at the same time contribute to urban renewal. Its goal is to enhance understanding and optimize methods for sustaining and improving cities around the world through the collection and analysis of data on citizens’ behavior and health, economics, transportation, communication systems, food and water, power consumption, and risks to public safety.
The New York City Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) was established in April 2012, as part of the city’s Applied Sciences Initiative, to create a system of innovation that links education and research programs to local and international knowledge networks and markets. Its goal is to contribute to the development of local knowledge networks, local innovation enterprises, and regional technology clusters while linking New York City commerce to global research networks, production activities, and markets.
CUSP is both multi- and transdisciplinary, it engages citizens and users, it integrates physical and tabular data, and it welcomes open innovation, commercialization, and entrepreneurship, including education of the next
generation of innovators in making cities sustainable. It will be a major center for research and education in urban informatics, with 50 full-time senior researchers, 30 postdocs, 430 master’s degree students, and 100 PhD candidates located in downtown Brooklyn and funded by government, corporate, philanthropic, and academic capital. The living labs and innovation district provide facilities, processes, real-life context, and management support for research projects at CUSP.
CUSP is a creative district comprising NYU-Poly, MetroTech, the neighborhood “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass” (DUMBO), the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Pratt Institute, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as seen in Figure 1. Brooklyn now has the potential to become an innovation district and technology cluster.
Together with NYU and NYU-Poly, CUSP is helping in the development of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle Strategic Plan, shown in Figure 2. The Triangle is addressing challenges such as needs for space, infrastructure and facilities, new construction and the retrofitting of existing facilities, and alignment of clear roles and responsibilities. A recent economic impact study found 523 innovation firms, 9,628 direct new jobs, 23,000 additional jobs supported,
FIGURE 1 Downtown Brooklyn
1.7 million square feet of office space, and a $3.1 billion local economic impact.1
New York’s data ecosystem presents CUSP with a number of opportunities for the acquisition and mining of data on the behavior of city inhabitants (e.g., their preferences, the effectiveness of inducements for change), current and projected health needs, projected living needs (e.g., power, heat, light, transportation, water, communications), and potential natural and human-generated threats to public safety.
Data are the new “plastics” and data startups are becoming the next layer of the NYC tech scene. Companies such as Google and Microsoft Research New York City, investors such as IA Ventures and Union Square Ventures, major events such as the O’Reilly Strata Conference, meet-ups such as NYC Data Business, hubs such as General Assembly, and open-source projects and nongovernmental organizations are taking advantage of the opportunity to interact in this mix of academic, corporate, and government partners, and various other organizations have expressed interest.
CUSP is a unique public-private research center that will use New York City as its laboratory and classroom to help cities around the world become more productive, livable, equitable, and resilient. CUSP participants can observe, analyze, and model cities to optimize outcomes, prototype solutions, formalize new tools and processes, and develop new expertise and experts. These activities will make CUSP the world’s leading authority in the emerging field of “urban informatics,” supporting user-driven innovation in real-life urban settings.
THE NEED FOR DATA
Cities are in competition for talent and capital in order to achieve sustainability. A city’s informatics overlay can help it be more efficient, more resilient, and more sustainable while improving quality of life, citizen engagement, and equitability.
Cities deliver services through infrastructure and processes. How do these systems operate and how do they interact? How can they be opti-
1 Economic Impacts of the Tech and Creative Sectors: Brooklyn Tech Triangle. April 2012. Available at http://brooklyntechtriangle.com/assets/Brooklyn-Tech-Triangle-Economic-Impact.pdf.
mized? The city’s infrastructure (its condition and operations) needs to be instrumented.
Cities are built by and for people, whose behavior needs to be understood and therefore included with other essential data in the information base. Privacy protection limits access to data such as people’s location, their economic and communication activities, and their health; but government agencies, organizations, and industry need this information and so depend on information-gathering instruments.
Other sectors too are interested in such data: citizens are interested in what is going on in their city, the private retail sector wants to target advertising, insurance companies need to stratify risk, and campaigning politicians want to know what the population is thinking. Also interested are security organizations—local law enforcement, the FBI, the National Security Agency, Homeland Security, and the US intelligence community.
New data-driven technologies can get beyond current limited-quantity and low-quality surveys and aggregated dynamic data banks and enhance the way social scientists work by providing data with far greater resolution, quality, quantity, and fidelity.
CUSP concentrates on urban data and access to societal and physical data sources, among others, focusing on three dimensions of concern: proprietary datasets or algorithms, privacy, and protection of critical infrastructure data. CUSP participants use the data to try to solve urban problems such as operational optimization, infrastructure condition monitoring, infrastructure planning, travel and intersection patterns, emergency management, hazard detection, urban meteorology, emissions monitoring, validity and calibration of proxies, variation among cities, and so on.