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May 19, 2014

‘Urban Data’ to Shape NYC Development Project

George Leopold

Urban planning on the nation’s biggest stage is leveraging big data to find new ways to design and run the cities of the future.

New York City’s Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate project in the United States, is defined as a “quantified community” being built from scratch on Manhattan’s West Side. The mixed-used development project will eventually include office towers, apartments, shops, restaurants, schools, hotels, and access to public transportation.

Urban planners in New York City said they want to use big data analytics to capture information about the estimated 65,000 people expected to pass through Hudson Yards each day. That data would be used to help urban planners figure how future “smart” cities should be constructed and managed.

Construction at Hudson Yards is scheduled to be completed in 2025. The 14-acre site (six city blocks) will include 5,000 residences, 100 shops, 20 restaurants, 14 “public spaces,” five office towers, a public school and a 150-room luxury hotel, according to the project’s web site.

The pace of construction, which began at the end of 2012, is picking up. Total construction cost is pegged at $20 billion.

With a projected 24 million visitors a year, Hudson Yard’s planners will have plenty of data to sift through.

Capturing and analyzing data on the daily routines of residents and visitors could be used by city administrators and urban planners designing future cities. Much of the data is expected to be collected by sensors located in buildings and outdoors, along with Internet-enable devices and appliances. Residents and visitors could opt to share consumer data via smartphone and other apps.

Hudson Yards’ developers are teaming with New York University Center for Urban Science and Progress on the “urban informatics” project. The partners claim the fruits of the project will be a “quantified community,” which they define as a “fully-instrumented urban neighborhood that will measure and analyze key physical and environmental attributes at Hudson Yards.”

NYU researchers and their partners said they are still developing a list of datasets to be collected. Possible examples include:

  • Measuring, modeling, and predicting pedestrian flows through traffic and public transit points, open spaces, stores, and hotels.
  • Gauging air quality both within buildings and across the six-block area.
  • Measuring health and activity levels of residents and workers using a customized, opt-in mobile app.
  • Measuring solid waste with an emphasis on recovery of recyclable materials and food wastes.
  • Measuring and modeling energy production and usage throughout the Hudson Yard project, including “optimization of [an] on-site cogeneration plant and thermal microgrid.

Energy monitoring also would likely leverage emerging smart meter and other grid technologies used to track energy production and usage.

“Given the scale and significance of Hudson Yards, we believe our partnership [with developers] will help create a model for future sustainable, data-driven urban development,” Constantine Kontokosta, the head of the NYU Center’s Quantified Community initiative said in a statement.

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