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MacArthur Foundation grant supports Urban Center for Computation and Data

A new Chicago-based research center using advanced computational methods to understand the rapid growth of cities will receive a $500,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The funds help launch the Urban Center for Computation and Data (UrbanCCD), an initiative of the Computation Institute (CI) dedicated to data-driven urban research, planning and design.

Announced in December 2012, UrbanCCD was initially funded by a $600,000-grant from the National Science Foundation and unites researchers from several Chicago institutions, city officials and private enterprise with the Computation Institute (CI), a joint initiative between the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.

UrbanCCD plans to capitalize upon the growing availability of city datasets and the emergence of urban sensor networks. The interdisciplinary collaboration will analyze and integrate those data sources and build complex computer models that can anticipate the impact of policy decisions, investments, urban development or other interventions on a city and its residents.

We’re seeing accelerated urbanization globally, outpacing traditional tools and methods of urban design and operation. The consequences are seen in inefficient transportation networks belching greenhouse gasses and unplanned city-scale slums with crippling poverty and health challenges. There is an urgent need to apply advanced computational methods and resources to both explore and anticipate the impact of urban expansion and find effective policies and interventions.

—UrbanCCD Director Charlie Catlett, CI Senior Fellow and Senior Computer Scientist at Argonne National Laboratory

The collaboration will analyze urban data and build complex computer models that simulate the impact of policy decisions and development upon a city and its residents. For example, a multi-dimensional model could simulate the impact of adding or subtracting bus lines on a region’s crime, unemployment or access to health care. Urban planners and architects can simulate the energy and infrastructure needs of new, large-scale developments with unprecedented depth of detail before construction begins.

A starting point for UrbanCCD research will be hundreds of data sets published by the City of Chicago Data Portal, an initiative dedicated to open government data. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently signed an executive order expanding the release of data from city agencies.

Here in Chicago, analytics is informing our decisions, making City services smarter and more effective and continually pushing us to a place where we can innovate and move forward. Our ambitious open data program works in tandem, engages a broad community that supports this innovation. A center dedicated to open and collaborative research and planning around data-driven analysis will help feed intelligent urban policy and sustain innovation not just in Chicago but in cities across the world.

—Brett Goldstein, Chief Data Officer at the City of Chicago

The center’s first major project is to create the Urban Sciences Research Coordination Network (USRCN), uniting social, economic, health and computational scientists to develop a roadmap for data-driven urban sciences. USRCN will engage collaborators internationally, with an initial team from CI, UChicago, Argonne, the University of Chicago Medical Center, Chapin Hall, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the City of Chicago, and the Chicago-based international architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.


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