Public Works Partners was fascinated to see news this week about the role of NYU’s Center for Urban Science & Progress (CUSP) will play in measuring and studying myriad aspects of urban living in the new Hudson Yards district on Manhattan’s west side. CUSP is partnering with the site’s developers to incorporate smart sensors into the neighborhood’s infrastructure with the goal of creating a “quantified community.”

A few years ago, we helped NYU develop its winning proposal for CUSP as part of the City of New York’s Applied Science Facility competition. A core proposition of CUSP is that it will apply society’s rapidly increasing ability to collect, transmit, store, integrate and analyze data “to move beyond today’s imperfect and often anecdotal understanding of cities to enable better operations, better planning, and better policy.”

Much of the discussion to date on harnessing the power of this type of information has focused on understanding cities’ physical infrastructure and how citizens interact with it: reducing energy usage, smoothing out traffic jams, minimizing wastewater and runoff. We’re looking forward to learning more about how “big data” can be used to understand trends in cities’ social infrastructure: neighborhood economic activity, job preparation and retention, and access to key social support services by residents in need, which communities have the greatest number of seniors living in isolation. A civil society is facilitated by its civil infrastructure, but its essence is its social infrastructure.

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