Cusp In The Media

From the Milky Way to Midtown, A New Way to See a City

Communications Home Feature

The glare of city lights dims the stars for urban dwellers around the world, but a New York University program is borrowing an idea from astronomy to see its hometown in a new way. If the experiment lives up to its early promise, it will yield a tool that will help urban buildings everywhere be more sustainable.

At a first-of-its-kind “urban observatory” created by NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, a special high-tech camera captures aspects of building performance that are invisible to the naked eye, such as heat leaks, energy efficiency and insulation. Though the project is still in the demonstration phase, it is expected to yield insights about building performance and urban life that will benefit both the public and private sectors.

CUSP’s urban observatory uses an eight-megapixel camera perched on top of a building in downtown Brooklyn to capture a panoramic image of downtown and midtown Manhattan every 10 seconds. Unlike a satellite, the CUSP camera offers both an unchanging perspective and easy, low-cost operation, according to the project team.

The big data generated by the CUSP observatory could be mined for solutions to urban problems, a promising development as populations become increasingly concentrated in cities.

“For the first time in history, 50 percent of the world is urban,” Maureen McAvey, senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, told CPE. Fully 85 percent of the population of the United States is concentrated in metropolitan areas. Meanwhile, urban populations are rapidly expanding in Asia, Africa and South America.

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