Big Data & the Economics of Big Cities

Some futurists have argued that the ubiquity of telecommunications and computing will make cities obsolete.  The Economist‘s Urban Life blog has been making the argument that the rise of the digital age could make cities more important and vital than ever.  Big data is not only becoming big business, it is–according to this perspective–an important contributor to modern urban life.

The author points out that this may be an example of “Jevon’s Paradox.”   Just as the invention of more efficient steam engines in the 19th Century actually increased the consumption of coal (since it made energy much cheaper), an economy that is connected by cheap telecommunications technology may become more dependent on personal interactions and need cities more than ever.   Beyond that, the data generated by all of these interactions may improve the quality of urban life itself:

[Big Data–huge interconnected databases] are densely concentrated in cities, because that is where the people, machines, buildings and infrastructures that carry and contain them are packed together. They are turning cities into vast data factories. “That kind of merger between physical and digital environments presents an opportunity for us to think about the city almost like a computer in the open air,” says Assaf Biderman of [the SENSEable City Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. As those data are collected and analysed, and the results are recycled into urban life, they may turn cities into even more productive and attractive places.

An intriguing prospect, but one that comes with serious concerns, too.  You can read all about it here.

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