The Economist recently published a great piece on the use of data to understand cities, titled "The laws of the city." The article offers a treasure trove of examples showing how researchers are using data to better understand urban trends and patterns in population, transit, and development.
Carlo Ratti, who heads the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was one of the first to sift through the data produced by telecoms networks. One aim was to find out how a country’s internal borders reflect human connections. In Britain the English and the Scots hardly talk, at least on landlines; west of London, where many of Britain’s high-tech firms are based, a new region is developing. American states such as Georgia and Alabama belong together, whereas California splits three ways. In Portugal, if a city is twice the size of another, people make 12% more phone calls per head. This gives weight to what urban theorists such as the late Jane Jacobs have long argued: that cities foster the exchange of ideas.In many cases, the article argues, we're seeing data analytics prove the longstanding hypotheses proposed by urban theorists. But with the massive amounts of created by cities every day, urban planners and city governments, like New York City, have only begun to scratch the surface of what can be done with these kinds of data.