Big Data and City Management
Cities like New York, Madrid, and especially Rio de Janeiro are augmented with Big Data-powered initiatives that range from combating crime with predictive analytics (New York & Madrid) to providing real-time data for improved management. Although Big Data is no panacea and is mainly used in conjunction with a greater plan, there’s no denying that it aids cities, for example, in squeezing the most out of the available infrastructure.
Big Data and Public Services
New York, once a crime-ridden concrete labyrinth and inspiration for telling titles like Taxi Driver and Escape From New York, has become much safer. From 1990 to 2009, there has been a 79-percent reduction in murders, even though the social factors haven’t changed much. The Domain Awareness System, as Microsoft’s team-up with the city is called, doesn’t fall into that time frame but shows the commitment that NYC has made for safety, with an added anti-terrorism spin in the form of radiation/chemical detection in key locations of the Big Apple.
That being said, Big Data was already used for public safety purposes in NYC before, in the form of call record processing, allowing police to focus on areas from which more crime-related calls are made. The efficacy of this practice has been proven quite some time ago: criminologist Lawrence Sherman studied call records in Minneapolis, showing that some 3.5 percent of the addresses produced about 50 percent of the crime calls. And crime doesn’t simply move to another neighborhood.
In Rio de Janeiro, however, the use of Big Data has taken a different course. The municipality focuses on predictive analytics as well as real-time city insights that alert public services to impending trouble. The intelligent operations centre, as the 2010 joint project of the municipality and IBM is called, focuses on weather reports, public surveillance, cleaning services and transport. The effort has produced mixed results, as evidenced by the embarrassing protests, which coincided with the 2014 FIFA World Cup, calling for better public services.
One can surmise that the 560+ cameras wired to the operations centre in Rio provide a very rough approximation of the city; however, the scale of data is not really at hand here. Big Data is but a part of the effort, as it is in New York City, to make the city more safe. The centre was established after a series of lethal landslides caused by rainfall, so its main efforts lie on emergency prevention and detection.
Crimewaves still plague the city, and the protests showed that infrastructure-related problems still linger. The biggest boon is the lives saved (not necessarily improved) due to better coordination between public services.
These early efforts show that cities have a lot of room to tread before operations centres become completely ingrained and vital for the city’s sustenance. In New York, Big Data has become part of long-term efforts to reduce crime. In Rio, Big Data is leveraged to improve the overall coordination and squeeze more out of scarce infrastructure. There is, however, only so much you can do before the time is ripe for concrete and bulldozers.
By Lauris Veips