September 20, 2017
By Emily F. Keller
CUAC Holds Fall Symposium to Identify Research Projects

To understand trends in housing affordability, neighborhood change and multi-modal transportation systems in the Cascadia region, researchers, public agencies and community stakeholders are taking a multifaceted view.

Examining urban ecology and migration patterns, homelessness and development in relation to transit network planning and population health indicators was the subject of discussion at the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative (CUAC) Fall Symposium September 11-12, 2017. The event took place at the University of Washington (UW), following the CUAC Summit at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in July.

The goal of the symposium was to identify collaborative research projects to pursue in the coming year by bringing students and faculty together from a diverse range of disciplines and departments. CUAC supports projects with a regional focus, participation at UW and UBC, a connection to government or community stakeholders to bridge research and policy, and an innovative use of complex data.

== Day 1: Urban Data Research in the Cascadia Region ==

The first day of the symposium brought together 35 faculty and students from UW, UBC and Western Washington University. With CUAC’s interdisciplinary focus, the session drew researchers who study evictions, migration between rural and urban areas, open data management, electronic fare card data, senior housing, behavioral science, social determinants of health, child welfare, climate and energy policies, modeling and simulation tools, network data, inclusive survey design, and comparative law. Bill Howe, Director of Urbanalytics at UW, moderated the discussion.

A group of participants formed the Neighborhood Research Collective to look at the relationship between neighborhood change and issues such as the housing market, homelessness, zoning, development, diversity, community health and public transit access. Potential data sources include Google Streetview, Craigslist postings, building and zoning data, life expectancy statistics, and annual homelessness counts.

Transportation projects discussed at the symposium included the integration of data streams from private and public transit providers through the UW Transportation Data Collaborative, and DSSG projects about the impact of ride share services on traffic congestion, the use of electronic fare card data representing a subset of transit customers, and the collection of social media and transit network data for route planning in expanding multi-modal systems.

Discussions around the cross-cutting theme of responsible data management centered on the importance of data governance and balancing the extraction of usable information for network planning and policy decisions with the protection of individuals who are represented by the data. Participants noted the challenges of working with historical data, negotiating data licenses, and integrating disparate data sets in a comparable format.

Many of the symposium participants, including faculty from the newly created Department of Real Estate in the College of Built Environments, were meeting to discuss overarching issues for the first time. They included professors and students in the fields of landscape architecture, data science, urban analytics, neuroscience, community and regional planning, sociology, nursing and health care, urban design and planning, social work, statistics, computer science and engineering, real estate, population and public health, and civil engineering.

== Day 2: International Standards for Urban Metrics ==

On the second day of the symposium, Jonathan Fink, Visiting Professor of Urban Analytics at UBC, led a discussion on uniform urban metrics for sustainability and performance approved by the International Standards Organization (ISO) in 2014. The standard, ISO 37120, enables the comparison of data across 17 themes from environment, wastewater and urban planning to education, transportation and shelter in cities around the world.

Students and faculty were joined for the discussion by Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) fellows from the UW eScience Institute and UBC Data Science Institute summer programs, as well as representatives from the cities of Surrey, Vancouver, Portland and Seattle, the World Council on City Data (WCCD) at the University of Toronto, and the technology consulting firm iSoftStone. Several participants joined by phone.

Leading into the discussion, DSSG fellows, project leads and data scientists showcased their project posters, which were also featured that week at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference.

The ISO program is administered by the WCCD, with 50 cities currently enrolled and 50 applications pending. ISO certification consists of measuring up to 100 specified parameters using standardized metrics. Compliance is verified by accountants. Similar to LEED certification, cities are ranked by the number of metrics they measure, rather than the values provided.

The ISO 37120 themes and a few sample indicators include:

  • Economy (unemployment rate and percent of population living in poverty)
  • Fire and emergency response (number of firefighters per 100,000 population)
  • Governance (women as a percent of total elected to city-level office)
  • Telecommunications and Innovation (number of cell phone connections)
  • Water and Sanitation (percent of city population with potable water supply service, and total domestic water consumption per capita)

The discussion explored research and operational opportunities for incorporating ISO 37120 data, presented in a centralized platform, into domain-specific projects or urban modeling. Jonathan Fink asked the participants from academia, government and the private sector to think about what would be possible to do with this emerging quantitative base that is not currently possible.

Measuring common indicators in a uniform way provides new opportunities for comparability at the city-to-city scale. Participants also noted the importance of tracking granular data, such as neighborhood-specific metrics, to show potential inequalities between geographic or demographic populations within each city that are not apparent when viewing average numbers.

== Get Involved ==

CUAC welcomes new projects. To provide background information about existing research that would benefit from connecting to the CUAC community, please complete a brief survey via the Urbanalytics website.