About Michael Batty

I chair CASA at UCL which I set up in 1995. I am Bartlett Professor In UCL.

Big Data in the Big Apple


What we can learn here from New York: an interesting report from Eddie Copeland at the Policy Exchange. Fascinating reading from the place where open data was invented, and where Urban Mechanics was begun. I quote from the blurb:

Today marks the launch of the first report from the Capital City Foundation, Policy Exchange’s London-focused unit. The report, Big Data in the Big Apple, says the next Mayor of London should appoint a Data Tsar to replicate New York’s success at using analytics to improve life for Londoners. Monitoring different data sets including the amount of rubbish collected, energy bills and even sewage levels could, for example, help local authorities identify and combat ‘beds in sheds’, the illegal use of buildings usually built without planning permission that cost the taxpayer millions and make life a misery for Londoners. The report calls for the appointment of a Data Tsar based in City Hall whose job would be to lead a team of analysts that collects and overlays different data sets held by each of London 33 boroughs as well as the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire Brigade.

The paper sets out a number of ways in which harnessing different data sets could lead to better outcomes for Londoners:

  • Illegal housing. Overlaying data such as waste ‘output’ per person, incidents of fly tipping, energy consumption and the size and age of a property and its garden could help councils identify ‘beds in sheds’ and houses which have more people than officially registered.
  • Boosting new business growth. Using data from mobile phone users to show how many people have walked down a particular street over a month could help business optimise their opening times. Likewise making available Companies House data showing business closure statistics can help inform entrepreneurs where they should locate their business.
  • Food safety inspections. Overlaying where previous inspections have taken place with complaints received from the public as well as analysis of posts on Twitter or TripAdvisor could help build up a picture of which restaurants could pose more of a risk to the public.

Read the report here


The Sixth Kondratieff Is The Smart City


Nikolai Kondratieff, a Soviet-era economist in the 1920s, developed a theory of the economy where technological innovations drove the business cycle. This looked a little too like the way the capitalist world explained itself and for these sins, Stalin sent him to the Gulag where he went insane and died in 1938. But Joseph Schumpeter picked up his ideas, popularising this theory as long waves where new technologies drove the economy on the upswing only for the wave to peak and then swing down into recession and depression. This in turn initiated the creation of newer technologies that would drive an new upswing when these new technologies would destroy or displace the old … and so on. Schumpeter published this in his book Business Cycles in 1939. Five such waves have been identified since the late 19th century, each of roughly 50 years in length, the first relating to steam, the second to rail and iron, the third to electricity, the fourth to automobiles, the fifth to information technologies which is currently just ending and the sixth to … ?

I think the sixth wave will be based around the idea of the smart city. It will include information technologies in medicine, nanotechnologies, AI in its many forms, and new forms of organisational change using intelligent computation, cloud computing, new forms of sensor, social media and so on. However this is mere speculation on my part but others are saying it too. My interest in this is prompted by an essay I have written for a volume celebrating Peter Hall’s academic contributions, which will be published in time (perhaps this year) by Springer (see link below to get a copy). My task was to review his contributions to technology and cities and it is there that he developed the notion of innovative and creative cities built around the idea of long waves. Indeed in several books in the 1980s, in particular his book with Paschal Preston called The Carrier Wave: New Information Technology and the Geography of Innovation 1846-2003, he developed the geography of the Kondratieff and my own appreciation leads quite easily, I think, to the notion that the sixth Kondratieff will be all about the smart city.

This is a controversial thesis because in and of itself the Kondratieff long waves are a controversial idea but more than me writing at length about it in this blog, you can read the first draft of my essay which have uploaded here. So click on this link. The essay will change – it is simply a first draft – but the idea of the era that we are about to find ourselves in being the era or age of the Smart City is pretty resonant with lots of things you will read on this site. And lots of things we do in CASA.

Percolating Britain


In human systems, defining any of the objects or attributes we work with is plagued with ambiguity. Defining cities is one of the classic problems and here we use percolation theory to ultimately define cities as connected clusters at a fine scale. But to do this, we begin with the nearest thing to a universal system, Britain itself. We define clusters from the digital street map which has around 3.3 million nodes and 4 million segments with an average degree of 2.34. This is essentially the street pattern at a resolution of about 75 metres – the averaging spacing between nodes. What we do is prune the giant British cluster where everything is connected. We do this by introducing a distance threshold defining clusters that remain when we throw out all those nodes that are greater than the threshold distance away from all other nodes, and we do this successively, recursively defining the remaining clusters. This produces a hierarchy of incredible depth and complexity but what it shows us is that Britain first splits into its constituent nations, then into regions and ultimately when we get down to about the 300 metre threshold, we identify its cities.

In a sense, this establishes the context. It is but one way of defining our city boundaries as clusters of nodes and links and it illustrates the kind of representational dilemmas that we work with daily in this field. There is work to be done on this relativity of our objects of definition in city systems and as you might expect we have many other related definitions of cities, as, for example, in our recent Interface paper. You can get our paper on the British percolation from the arxiv here or click on the picture above. Our paper on the recent election in Britain is also relevant and this you can get from the arxiv too.