The future of cities: richer data from the past
August 4, 2016
By Duncan Angove, Infor president
The city of tomorrow, as most of us imagine it, will likely be driven by fantastic innovations that support fast transportation, efficient use of resources, participatory government, and universal access to services. But to better inform implementation of a sustainable infrastructure for our future, we shouldn’t forget the modern tools that can help us understand cities by looking at data from their past.
A groundbreaking new research paper provides an indication of the potential to make historical data more usable to contemporary planners. Published in Scientific Data, “Spatializing 6,000 years of global urbanization from 3700 BC to AD 2000” presents digitized and geocoded urban population data, transcribed from historical, archeological, and census-based sources.
Authored by a team comprising two Yale researchers and one from University of Canterbury in New Zealand, it’s the most expansive collection of historic urban population to date. Granting insights into long-term patterns, such as how cities of the past influenced their regional environments and how urban populations have been distributed around the world, the work aims to provide more context through which we can understand current urbanization trends.
The paper is also accompanied by a variety of data visualizations that not only plot the development of societies, but also depict the schematics of the study itself. Data cleaning and harmonization procedures were necessary to create consistent datasets and make data published decades ago in tabular form more usable to modern analysts.
In the smart cities of our future, sensors, systems, and citizens will generate tremendous amounts of data. What we do with that data should not only help us achieve connectivity, transparency, and efficiency, but understanding as well. Digitizing historical data can inform our progress and ensure that we envision tomorrow without forgetting yesterday.