For the last fifty years Richard Wurman – architect, graphic designer and founder of the TED Conferences – has been dedicated to creating a platform that compares cities. In Wurman’s early studies, he quickly learned that comparing global cities was no easy task. Cities use very different languages to describe their assets, from planning principles to land use types to social statistics. “They don’t collect their information the same way. They don’t describe themselves with the same legend,” he tells Nate Berg of Next City.
Thanks to sophisticated mapping tools, delving into the statistical data of numerous cities has become far more manageable than in 1962, when Wurman produced his first comparative analysis using clay models of 50 different cities. Wurman’s analog-driven statistical analysis has turned into the Urban Observatory, a website that allows users to choose from 15 variables and easily compare the public data of up to 16 cities around the world in real time.
More about the platform after the break.
The Urban Observatory developed out of a partnership with GIS mapping firm Esri and production company Radical Media; it was unveiled at the Esri International User Conference earlier this month.
Admittedly, Wurman is not sure yet how this data will be used, but he has a few speculations. With this platform, cities can observe the statistical trends of cities around the world, noting the successes and failures of city policies. Wurman also anticipates that it will help companies and municipalities locate sites – such as a relocated factory or fire station, for example – for future development.
All in all, the project is subject to the ways in which cities continue to collect their data. “Urban Observatory, while flashy and engaging, is still limited by the availability of data, and by the willingness of cities to massage their data to fit the set standard. The goal is that more will see the value and participate,” writes Berg. Until then, Urban Observatory’s comparison tool will have to use the data available in its efforts of creating a comprehensive tool.
Watch as Jack Dangermond and Richard Wurman discuss the project here.