Data-Driven Urban Dynamics at ORNL

Visited the Urban Dynamics Institute (UDI) headed up Budhendra Bhaduri (Budhu) which is a rapidly growing effort in data-driven technologies applicable to cities. This group which is based at Oakridge National Labs which began life in the war years as part of the Manhattan Project, focusses on research that is geared to understanding, predicting and resolving key urban problems using large data sets which are spatially extensive. It is one of the few groups around the world doing serious research into the science of cities, albeit data-driven in that the focus is on extracting urban patterns and processes from very large data sets. Traditionally these data sets have been based on imaging from remotely sensed data but are now being extended to social media and all kinds of real-time sensed data dealing with location, mobility, transportation and climate. Many of these projects utilise the powerful computer technologies established at Oak Ridge by the Department of Energy that runs the National Labs. At Oak Ridge, the UDI used the TITAN supercomputer for processing remotely sensed images that require various forms of deep learning in the extraction of pattern. TITAN is the fourth largest supercomputer worldwide (measured by petaflops – floating point operations per second which is greater than 10pb) but it is being replaced by SUMMIT and the lab could well take the top spot, overtaking China again – who knows.

The UDI’s most visible project is Landscan. This is a world-wide data set at very high resolutions – at various grains down to approximately 1 km resolution (30″ X 30″). let me quote from the web page: ” LandScan is the finest resolution global population distribution data available and represents an ambient population (average over 24 hours). The LandScan algorithm, an R&D 100 Award Winner, uses spatial data and imagery analysis technologies and a multi-variable dasymetric modeling approach to disaggregate census counts within an administrative boundary. Since no single population distribution model can account for the differences in spatial data availability, quality, scale, and accuracy as well as the differences in cultural settlement practices, LandScan population distribution models are tailored to match the data conditions and geographical nature of each individual country and region.”

I am a member of the Scientific Advisory Board [myself, Mike Goodchild (UCSB), John Harbor (Purdue), Nigel Davis (Willis),  Karen Seto (Yale), and Luc Vincent (Lyft) were in attendance] and we visited Oak Ridge last week March 27-29 and I gave a talk to the Institute. Bhudu asked me to talk on Cities and AI and although I complained mildly that I didnt know much about AI, I have explored how neural nets can be used in models of design so I decided to talk about this. You can access and read my talk by clicking on this link that will give you the PDF

However the icing on the cake was a visit to see TITAN and the photographs above show a panorama of me along the bank of boxes which are thence arrayed in parallel in 8 rows, a truly massive machine. Also saw one like this at Harwell (Rutherford-Appleton) the other week at STFC !


Planning Knowledge and Research

Here is a useful and interesting book on the nature of planning knowledge and research. My own contribution – click here to get the original PDF – is about scientific method and how theory and models pertain to the field of planning. But mine is old hat and there are some really sharp and focussed contributions here.

This is from the publishers blurb: The field of urban planning is far-reaching in breadth and depth. This is due to the complex nature of cities, regions, and development processes. The knowledge domain of planning includes social, economic, technological, environmental, and political systems that continue to evolve and expand rapidly. Understanding these systems is an inter-disciplinary endeavor at the scale of several academic fields. The wide range of topics considered by planning educators and practitioners are often based on varying definitions of “planning” and modes of planning practice. This unique book discusses various elements and contributions to urban planning research to show that seemingly disparate topics do in fact intersect and together, contribute to ways of understanding urban planning. The objective is not to discuss how to “do” research, but rather, to explore the context of urban planning scholarship with implications for the planning academy and planning practice.

And here are the contents:


Introduction: Planning Knowledge and Research: Thomas Sanchez

Part I

How Theory Links Research and Practice: 70 Years’ Planning Theory: A Critical Review: Ernest Alexander

Mapping the Knowledge Domain of Urban Planning: Thomas W. Sanchez and Nader Afzalan

Planning Research in the Service of Planning Practice: Process and Implementation: Carolyn G. Loh

Striving for Impact Beyond the Academy? Planning Research in Australia: Paul Burton

Part II

Planning Culture: Research Heuristics and Explanatory Value: Karsten Zimmermann, Robin Chang, and Andreas Putlitz

The Relationship of Green Places and Urban Society: Understanding the Evolution and Integration of City Planning with the Ecological Sciences: Charles Hostovsky

Evolution in Land Use and Transportation Research: Dea van Lierop, Geneviève Boisjoly, Emily Grise, and Ahmed El-Geneidy

Monitoring Sustainability Culture: An Overview of a Multi-Year Program of Evaluation Research at the University of Michigan: Robert W. Marans and John Callewaert

Part III

Towards an Object-Oriented Case Methodology for Planners: Robert Beauregard and Laura Lieto

Urban Morphology as a Research Method: Brenda Case Scheer

The Unwarranted Boundaries between Urban Planning and Design in Theory, Practice and Research: Davide Ponzini

Part IV

Use of Planning Magazine to Bridge the Gap Between Researchers and Practitioners: Kathryn Terzano and Reid Ewing

Planning from the Inside Out: Using GIS Technology & Citizen Science Post-Disaster in New Orleans: Michelle M. Thompson

Planning Our Future Cities: The Role Computer Technologies Can Play: Robert Goodspeed, Peter Pelzer, and Chris Pettit

Science in Planning: Theory, Methods and Models: Michael Batty

Postscript: Tom Sanchez