Urban Sustainability Observatories: Leveraging Urban Experimentation for Sustainability Science and Policy

Cities are complex systems, and sustainability is a wicked problem. How should we approach sustainable urban systems science and policy? In this paper published in Harvard Data Science Review, we discuss the concept of data-enabled urban sustainability observatories that leverage real-world experimentation for deeper understanding and better policies.

Miller, H.J., Clifton, K., Akar, G., Tufte, K. Gopalakrishnan, S., MacArthur, J., Irwin, E., Ramnath, R., Stiles, J. (2021) “Urban sustainability observatories: Leveraging urban experimentation for sustainability science and policy,Harvard Data Science Review, 3.2, DOI: 10.1162/99608f92.2025202b

Abstract

Humanity is experiencing revolutionary changes in the 21st century, including accelerating urbanization, the introduction of disruptive mobility technology services, and new sources of data generated and consumed by urban and mobility processes. However, the environmental, social, and economic sustainability implications of these new mobility services are unclear given the complex nature of urban systems and the multifaceted, contested nature of sustainability goals. In this article, we discuss the concept of urban sustainability observatories that leverage urban experimentation through ongoing data collection and analysis capabilities. The goal is to generate new scientific insights and design effective policies to meet sustainability goals for cities. We outline their functional requirements and related research challenges. We also discuss challenges in building and sustaining these observatories and how university, community, and industry partnerships may establish successful observatories that serve as critical drivers of research, technology transfer, and commercialization.

Keywords: data observatory, sustainability, urban experimentation, geospatial data, mobility data

Trends that will shape us: Transportation

On April 7, I participated in a panel discussion at the Columbus Metropolitan Club; topic: Trends that Will Shape Us: Transportation. Other guests include Jack Marchbanks (Director, Ohio Department of Transportation) and Kevin Chambers (Managing Director – Logistics, Distribution and Supply Chain, JobsOhio).

It was an interesting and lively conversation: spanning public transit, the impact of COVID on cities, social equity, infrastructure, freight and logistics.  Check it out!

Link to recording

 

 

The impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on public transit demand in the United States

New paper: Liu L, Miller HJ, Scheff J (2020) The impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on public transit demand in the United States. PLOS ONE 15(11):e0242476. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0242476

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions led to major transit demand decline for many public transit systems in the United States. This paper is a systematic analysis of the dynamics and dimensions of this unprecedented decline. Using transit demand data derived from a widely used transit navigation app, we fit logistic functions to model the decline in daily demand and derive key parameters: base value, the apparent minimal level of demand and cliff and base points, representing the initial date when transit demand decline began and the final date when the decline rate attenuated. Regression analyses reveal that communities with higher proportions of essential workers, vulnerable populations (African American, Hispanic, Female, and people over 45 years old), and more coronavirus Google searches tend to maintain higher levels of minimal demand during COVID-19. Approximately half of the agencies experienced their decline before the local spread of COVID-19 likely began; most of these are in the US Midwest. Almost no transit systems finished their decline periods before local community spread. We also compare hourly demand profiles for each system before and during COVID-19 using ordinary Procrustes distance analysis. The results show substantial departures from typical weekday hourly demand profiles. Our results provide insights into public transit as an essential service during a pandemic.

Media