What is “Urban Informatics”? Well, let’s take a look. Across the country students are urged to participate in more hands-on learning. This helps the learner’s mind to experience many different types of informational intake. One school is doing somethin pretty amazing. And the whole city is their learning playground.
The Center for Urban Science and Progress, a new research center that recently welcomed its first students and faculty in downtown Brooklyn, certainly has its eyes on the city. The ceiling-high windows of the main office track New York’s sites and skyscrapers for miles — even catching a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. One long wall of an entire room is lined with dozens of flatscreen panels that will soon display the loads of urban data the center was created to capture.
“It’s real fun to be living in the middle of something you’re trying to study at the same time,” says Steven Koonin, the center’s director. “That’s why we’re here with that view.”
CUSP will operate under the auspices of New York University with a small army of partners both public and private (IBM, Microsoft, and Cisco, among others). Its ties to New York will be tightest of all. The center emerged from the same New York City applied sciences initiative that produced the Cornell Tech campus currently being built on Roosevelt Island, and CUSP researchers will work directly with 13 city agencies. The school considers the city its living “laboratory”
In time, CUSP hopes to become the world’s leading authority on “urban informatics” — the acquisition and analysis of an enormous amount of information related to city systems. The center ascribes to the belief that “big data” will one day make all city operations and planning more efficient. That’s critical to what Koonin calls the center’s “mission-driven” focus: to study city problems, yes, but also to solve them.
“This is not your usual academic operation,” he says. “I think if you want to have impact, which is what we’re aspiring to, you have to have that kind of structure.”
The City as Partner
The inaugural CUSP class of 25 graduate students will get their master’s in urban science and informatics under the guidance of a small faculty. Over the next decade, the center plans to add dozens of full-time senior researchers and a doctorate program. In 2017, the school will move across the street into its newly renovated home in the old MTA headquarters, which it’s leasing from New York for a dollar a year.
CUSP projects will be limited only by the ability to collect information on a certain element of urban life. Koonin expects some scholars at the center to investigate the entire microbiome of the city, while others may try to count exactly how many people ride MTA buses. Whether it’s infrastructure, public health, energy, transportation — CUSP wants to keep close watch all of the urban informatics.