Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Urban Analytics

Alex D. Singleton, Seth E. Spielman, David C. Folch




The university professors who authored Urban Analytics have aimed it at undergraduate and graduate students, and designed it for a semester-long course, in conjunction with the supporting website. Thus, the questions, images, learning objectives, and annotated list of references for each chapter test comprehension and aid teaching.

The book defines its subject as “the practice of using new forms of data in combination with computational approaches to gain insight into urban processes” (page 15). The premise is that better data will allow for better decision-making around urban affairs, and that emerging technologies are useful vehicles for improved data analysis. Some of these technologies are ubiquitous in certain cities, from surveillance cameras mounted on lampposts to traffic mapping apps. The book is generally apolitical in discussing this tech.

Urban Analytics breaks down the components of urban analytics, looking at the basics of data processing (e.g. the kinds of hardware and software needed), data visualization (e.g. the different kinds of mapping techniques that can be used), data comparison (e.g. indices of deprivation comparing time periods and locations), data modelling (e.g. statistics applied to spatial hypotheses), and data simulation (e.g. scenario planning based on existing data and projections). It also gives examples of how such data are turned into actionable information.

For instance, the Street Bump app produced by the Boston mayor’s office used the accelerometers on drivers’ iPhones to identify potholes and feed this information to authorities. Their analysis revealed that a major cause of uneven roads was sunken manhole covers, which the city and utility companies then repaired.

Producing a different set of transport data, the Digital Matatus project of American and Kenyan universities involved students riding matatus (informal minibuses) in Nairobi and noting the locations of all the stops. The team processed the data using the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) file format, and turned the cleaned data into a paper map as well as mapping apps. Transit planners have been using this information to develop a bus rapid transit service in Nairobi.

And for something completely different, an app developer has created a map of rat sightings in New York City (http://benjmyers.com/ratmap).


Further reading:

Ayson, Deanna (2018), “Community mapping and data gathering for city planning in the Philippines”, Environment and Urbanization, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247818767338.

Kitchin, Rob, Tracey P. Lauriault and Gavin McArdle (2015), “Knowing and governing cities through urban indicators, city benchmarking and real-time dashboards”, Regional Studies, Regional Sciences Vol 2, No 1, pages 6–28, available at https://rsa.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21681376.2014.983149#.WxVuA....

Simon, David, Helen Arfvidsson, Geetika Anand, Amir Bazaz, Gill Fenna, Kevin Foster, Garima Jain, Stina Hansson, Louise Marix Evans, Nishendra Moodley, Charles Nyambuga, Michael Oloko, Doris Chandi Ombara, Zarina Patel, Beth Perry, Natasha Primo, Aromar Revi, Brendon Van Niekerk, Alex Wharton and Carol Wright (2015), “Developing and testing the Urban Sustainable Development Goal’s targets and indicators – a five-city study”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 28, No 1, pages 49–63, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247815619865.


Book note prepared by Christine Ro

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