Big Data and Big Cities: The Promises and Limitations of Improved Measures for Urban Life

39 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2015

See all articles by Edward L. Glaeser

Edward L. Glaeser

Harvard University - Department of Economics; Brookings Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Scott Duke Kominers

Harvard University

Michael Luca

Harvard Business School

Nikhil Naik

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Date Written: December 7, 2015

Abstract

New, “big” data sources allow measurement of city characteristics and outcome variables higher frequencies and finer geographic scales than ever before. However, big data will not solve large urban social science questions on its own. Big data has the most value for the study of cities when it allows measurement of the previously opaque, or when it can be coupled with exogenous shocks to people or place. We describe a number of new urban data sources and illustrate how they can be used to improve the study and function of cities. We first show how Google Street View images can be used to predict income in New York City, suggesting that similar image data can be used to map wealth and poverty in previously unmeasured areas of the developing world. We then discuss how survey techniques can be improved to better measure willingness to pay for urban amenities. Finally, we explain how Internet data is being used to improve the quality of city services.

Keywords: Data, Big Data, Urban Planning, Urban Politics, Development, Geography, Cities

Suggested Citation

Glaeser, Edward L. and Kominers, Scott Duke and Luca, Michael and Naik, Nikhil, Big Data and Big Cities: The Promises and Limitations of Improved Measures for Urban Life (December 7, 2015). HKS Working Paper No. RWP15-075. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2700323 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2700323

Edward L. Glaeser (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Brookings Institution

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Scott Duke Kominers

Harvard University ( email )

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Harvard Business School
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HOME PAGE: http://www.scottkom.com/

Michael Luca

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Boston, MA 02163
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HOME PAGE: http://drfd.hbs.edu/fit/public/facultyInfo.do?facInfo=ovr&facId=602417

Nikhil Naik

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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