Big Data for Small Places is applied research on the beautiful inefficiencies of our cities

Big Data for Small Places is a growing body of applied research created to understand the implications and potentials of big data for the development of small places and the urban communities who create them.

Big Data for Small Places began as a fellowship proposal in 2014 and found a home in the Social Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab. The project entered into a new phase at Supernormal, where we are focused on the development of new methods to apply data resources to design and planning practice in real urban environments. At MIT, data collection efforts include the development of Placelet, an urban sensor network and web-based API for interaction with the collected data. Funded by the Knight Foundation Prototype Fund.

Big Data for Small Places is an offshoot of the You Are Here project within the Social Computing Group. You Are Here is a collaborative study of place that uses a combination of informal and formal data sources to visualize cities in a new way. We are making 100 different maps of 100 different cities to create an atlas of collective human experience with the goal of bottom-up urban change. While the scale of the study for You Are Here is municipal boundaries and metro areas, Big Data for Small Places zooms in on specific blocks and streets.

At Supernormal, we use the skills we developed on the Placelet and You Are Here projects within the Media Lab for application in the block-by-block design of our cities and places. We team with local start-ups to collect granular urban data and create our own methods for analysis and translation into effective design and planning practices. We work with both public and private sector clients to apply new and informal data resources to existing conditions analysis, create tighter feedback loops between design and effect, and to optimize the impact of urban programming and design. Downtown Crossing is one such project.

​Elizabeth Christoforetti, Will Cohen, Yonatan Cohen, and Stephen Rife

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