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New webmap tool aids study of urban energy patterns

By Peter Fitzgibbon - 27th July 2012 - 06:56

PhD students at MIT develop an interactive web-map to aid an integrated understanding of resource use in cities

Daniel Wiesmann (MIT Portugal PhD Student) and David Quinn (MIT PhD, graduated this summer) have developed an interactive web-map that allows for an integrated understanding of resource use in cities- Urban Energy Patterns. By displaying measures of construction material (kg/person), building and transportation energy use (kWh/person) and population density (people/km2), the researchers hope to contribute to a better understanding of the relationship between these measures and urban development patterns. Thanks to a Google Map satellite imagery, users can examine specific urban areas, and automatically generate a detailed PDF report of the area which they examined.

This work was motivated by a desire to better understand how spatial patterns can be related to material and energy use in cities and therefore the two PhD students have mapped 40 cities across the United States hoping to contribute to the public discussion of urban sustainability. The data shown in the web-map uses a combination of publicly available datasets, survey data, and sophisticated spatial analysis methods at a high-resolution, enabling the prediction of values in cities where some data was not available.

Daniel Wiesmann (DW) gives his personal insight into the development of this project.

Q:How did you meet David?

DW: David and I first met when Professor John Fernandez was here in Lisbon for a sabbatical. John was David's thesis advisor and David came to Lisbon to work with him occasionally. I had a room free in my apartment and invited him to stay during his visit. We became friends quickly and started planning ideas for collaborative work.

Q:When did you start working on the project Urban Energy Patterns?

DW:The idea of developing some kind of interactive web-map was a goal that we had mid-way through our PhD's. It took some time for us to acquire the necessary skills, so we only started working on this in the summer of 2011. Since then, the website has gone through several iterations until it reached the current version in April 2012.

Q:What implications do you envision for this work?

DW:We hope the 4600 people who have used our website learned something about urban resource consumption and had some fun! The level of interest in our work is very motivating for us; we plan to extend the analysis to include more cities from around the world and to make the results of the analysis freely available. In general, there is a massive shortage of information about urban resource consumption. By demonstrating how researchers can use high-resolution, anonymized resource-consumption data, we hope that this tool will motivate cities to collect and release more data of this type.

Q:As you are both just finishing your PhD's what is next?

DW:We are in the process of setting up a company that specializes in urban sustainability analysis. We will continue to freely provide the results of our city analysis on, while our commercial work focuses on sustainability analysis, visualization and web-mapping.

This web-map has been featured on websites of The Guardian, The New York Times, Fast Company and Archinect. Daniel and David worked together with Professors Paulo Ferrão and John Fernandez, and plan to extend this analysis to include other cities, including Lisbon.

More information:

Read More: Satellite Imaging Terrestrial Mapping Construction Transport & Logistics

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