From today's New York Times comes a great article on "Mayor Bloomberg's Geek Squad," describing how NYC has been leveraging big data and public information to improve urban quality of life and address problems ranging from crime to sanitation to congestion. The increasing proliferation of data analysis in large cities such as NYC, Rio de Janeiro, and London demonstrates the power of quantitative methods to make sense of the incredibly complex systems that compose our cities in the 21st century.
"Data — or Big Data, as quantitative analysts will call it — is the tool du jour for tech-savvy companies that have realized that lurking in the vast pools of unprocessed information in their networks are solutions to some of today’s most pressing and convoluted problems. A few years ago, Google, for example, took the 50 million most common keywords that Americans typed in search bars and tried to figure out, by comparing them with federal health statistics, where the H1N1 flu virus was to likely strike next."
"According to a new book, “Big Data: A Revolution that Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think,” the enormous quantity of information whirling through the ether can affect and enhance our quality of life. As the authors put it, “The change of scale has led to a change of state.”
Now the city has brought this quantitative method to the exceedingly complicated machine that is New York. For the modest sum of $1 million, and at a moment when decreasing budgets have required increased efficiency, the in-house geek squad has over the last three years leveraged the power of computers to double the city’s hit rate in finding stores selling bootleg cigarettes; sped the removal of trees destroyed by Hurricane Sandy; and helped steer overburdened housing inspectors — working with more than 20,000 options — directly to lawbreaking buildings where catastrophic fires were likeliest to occur."