First exhibited at the Venice Biennale, Real Time Rome from MIT's SENSEable City Lab is an attempt to map the city via it's network of mobile devices, including phones, buses and taxis, in an attempt to understand urban dynamic, perhaps with a view to unlocking new ways to view cities and plan future development.
"In today's world, wireless mobile communications devices are creating new dimensions of interconnectedness between people, places, and urban infrastructure. This ubiquitous connectivity within the urban population can be observed and interpreted in real-time, through aggregate records collected from communication networks. Real-time visualizations expose the dynamics of the contemporary city as urban systems coalesce: traces of information and communication networks, movement patterns of people and transportation systems, spatial and social usage of streets and neighborhoods. Observing the real-time city becomes a means to understanding the present and anticipating the future of urban environments. In the visualizations of Real Time Rome we synthesize data from various real-time networks to understand patterns of daily life in Rome. We interpolate the aggregate mobility of people according to their mobile phone usage and visualize it synchronously with the flux of public transit, pedestrians, and vehicular traffic. By overlaying mobility information on geographic and socio-economic references of Rome we unveil the relationships between fixed and fluid urban elements. These real-time maps help us understand how neighborhoods are used in the course of a day, how the distribution of buses and taxis correlates with densities of people, how goods and services are distributed in the city, or how different social groups, such as tourists and residents, inhabit the city. With the resulting visualizations users can interpret and react to the shifting urban environment. Real Time Rome respects individual privacy and only uses aggregate data already collected by communication service providers; also, it is hoped that the exhibit will stimulate dialogue on access and responsible use of such data."
More from a PDF:
"From an individual’s perspective: what would be the best and most crowded place to drink an aperitivo in Rome? And what would be the fastest way to reach it by car, taxi or bus? From a general planning perspective: how do cars and pedestrians merge in the city? Where and when are urban resources squandered in traffic jams? How do tourists inhabit the urban realm? What is the pulse of the city and how is it affected by special events, such as the World Cup victory celebrations? The Real Time Rome project synthesizes data from communications and transportation networks into visualizations that help us decipher patterns of daily life in Rome. With aggregate information from mobile phones, made available through the innovative Lochness platform by Telecom Italia, the project interpolates the combined activity of people and presents it synchronously with the flux of public transportation and taxis. By overlaying mobility information on the geographic references of a city, Real Time Rome unveils the relationships between fixed and fluid urban elements."
Generally when it comes to visualising infrastructure we look at transport networks: road, rail, canals etc, but neglect these invisible networks of information systems, the dynamic urbanism of data flows. As more of our lives are mediated to virtual domains, a true understanding of a city must also take into account the data infrastructure and non-physical communication structures as well. Helsinki is well placed to present a virtual datacity intertwined with the physical site of roads and walls.