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Daniel O’Brien

Tue, Oct 24, 2023    1:15pm

The Pointilistic City: Well-Being and Equity in Communities & Their Places

A lecture by Daniel O’Brien, Professor at Northeastern University, organized as part of the Lectures in Planning Series (LiPS) at Columbia GSAPP.

Daily life occurs at multiple scales. We are part of a “community” comprising many people and institutions. We interface with neighbors on our street. We spend the greatest amount of time in our own homes. This multilayered complexity of social geography has important implications for our experiences and outcomes, from the “neighborhood effects” familiar to social scientists to microspatial inequities arising from disparities from street to street. Previous research and policy, unfortunately, has often concentrated on one of these geographical scales at a time, especially neighborhoods. But thanks to the emergent field of urban informatics—that is, the use of cutting-edge data and technology to better understand and serve communities–we have a newfound opportunity to examine the interplay between these scales and their combined implications for equity and well-being.

This talk will present work by the Boston Area Research Initiative at Northeastern University that captures this opportunity, building from insights on crime in communities to environmental justice and the impacts of heat, air pollution, and flooding. It will conclude by proposing how we might design 21st century communities whose planning, programs, and policies effectively engage this multilayered complexity.

Dr. Daniel O’Brien is a leader in the young field of “urban informatics”, which uses data and technology to better understand and serve local communities. He is Professor in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University and Director of the Boston Area Research Initiative (BARI), which advances civically engaged research in collaboration with the communities of greater Boston. His research focuses on neighborhoods—how they feel, how they work, and how they are (and are not) served by citywide programs and policies—with an emphasis on questions of equity. This mission has allowed him to study many topics, including crime, education, transportation, environmental justice, public health, and public infrastructure. He has published two books. The Urban Commons (Harvard University Press; 2018) tells the story of how Boston’s 311 system demonstrates the power of data and technology for improving cities in the 21st century, winning the American Political Science Association’s Dennis Judd Best Book Award for Urban & Local Politics. His textbook, Urban Informatics (Chapman Hall / CRC Press; 2022), is the first on data science and community-based research, policy, and practice and is freely accessible at ui.danourban.com. His third book, The Pointillistic City, is forthcoming from MIT Press in 2024.

Organized by the Urban Planning Program at Columbia GSAPP.