Robert Goodspeed is an Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan.
Contributed 28 posts
Robert Goodspeed is an Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. He holds a PhD from the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and previously worked for the Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council. See his academic website for more on his teaching and research.
The Democratization of Big Data
<p> Already a major technology trend, 2012 promises to be a watershed for "big data." A shorthand term for the proliferation of large datasets, big data also refers to the expansion of analytic techniques for teasing meaning from the vast archives of information produced by the digital world. The New York Times' Steve Lohr declared we have entered the "age of big data" in a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/sunday-review/big-datas-impact-in-the-world.html">recent article</a> that compared it with another revolutionary research tool -- the microscope. </p>
The Coming Urban Data Revolution
<p> Historically, data sources for urban planning have remained relatively stable. Planners relied on a collection of well-known government-produced datasets to do their work, including statistics and geographic layers from federal, state and local sources. Produced by regulatory processes or occasional surveys, the strengths and limitations of these sources are well known to planners and many citizens. However all this is beginning to change. Not only has the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey introduced a bewildering variety of data products, all with margins of error, three interrelated categories of new data are growing rapidly: crowdsourced, private, and "big" data. </p>
Knowledge Management for Planning Organizations
<p> Urban planning is an inherently knowledge-intensive activity. Even the most prosaic zoning change or development proposal can generate reams of memos, transcripts, minutes and notes. Planners routinely manage statistical and geographic data for research and analysis. In fact, this material proves so voluminous there is <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Planners-Use-Information-Hemalata-Dandekar/dp/1884829724/ref=tmm_pap_title_0">even a book</a> on how planners can collect, manage, and share information effectively. </p> <p> A comment I heard recently reminded me how often these systems can go awry. After calling a government agency to track down information about a program, my wife was told "the person who knows about it" wasn't in so she would have to call back. Is this common situation inevitable? The field of knowledge management argues it can be avoided through deliberate organizational strategies. Without them, individual employees hoard critical information and managers fear the impact of retirements or departures. For the disorganized organization, hiring new employees can also require a lengthy orientation process. When it comes to government organizations, these problems are not merely about organizational inefficiency. Disorganization can result in costly mistakes, legal trouble, and effect the ability for the public to access information in a timely way. </p> <p>
iPads for Planning?
<p><img src="/files/u10085/ipad.jpg" alt="iPad" title="undefined" width="300" height="186" align="right" onmouseover="undefined" onmouseout="undefined" />Earlier this week I read a <a href="http://mitatlawrence.net/projects/classes/dusp-lawrence-practicum-2004/">report about creating a geographic data system</a> for a community group in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The document contained detailed technical documentation for how to use iPAQ handheld computers to collect geocoded data. Since the data was collected and managed in geographic information system (GIS) software, it required pages of technical instructions. This case seemed a prime example of how GIS tools missed the mark for planners who need to work with geographic data, but in a different way than technical analysts. The purpose of the project was to empower community youth to collect basic data, a task ill suited to software designed for data management by experts using hundreds of attributes and a fine degree of precision.<br /><br />One day later, I found myself reading Newsweek's <a href="http://www.newsweek.com/id/235565">cover story</a> about the iPad, which reported that Apple expects to sell hundreds of thousands of the sturdy, easy-to-use devices in the coming months. Could the iPad be used for planning? I have <a href="/node/40512">previously written</a> about the potential for the iPhone to augment city life. Since then the types of apps I described have only grown in popularity: navigation apps that use transit data, apps to report potholes or other issues to city officials, augmented reality apps providing information about your surroundings, and geographic networking and gaming like <a href="http://foursquare.com/">FourSquare</a>.<br />
The Future of American High Speed Rail: Regional and Slow
<p> During his dramatic presentation <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/09/04/16/a-vision-for-high-speed-rail/">last April</a>, President Barack Obama laid out a bold vision for high speed rail in America. Wielding a stylish red, white, and blue map (below) he presented the proposed corridors for new high speed trains. (Similar, if not identical, to plans long sitting on the shelf at the Federal Railway Administration.) He asked Americans to "Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination." In reality limited funds, our dysfunctional planning processes, and the historical lack of investment in rail will mean the U.S. will most likely end up with a diverse collection of regional rail systems that may not go that fast.