Researchdisciplines, domains, and projects

The principal scope of CUSP’s research is urban informatics — the acquisition, integration, and analysis of data to understand and improve urban systems and quality of life.

To have impact on the city and commercial partners, and to give students real world experience, CUSP’s research program contains projects with goals and deliverables that develop or integrate technologies to specific ends (for example, understand and improve congestion and emergency response). CUSP also has core activities that foster the expertise required to execute projects, and that inform its educational curriculum.

CUSP research is centered on an organizational structure based on disciplines, domains, and projects.

The Role of Social Sciences

The social sciences are an important enabler for CUSP activities — people are the customers and operators of urban systems, and understanding them and their behavior is essential to the CUSP mission. Conversely, CUSP’s large, multi-modal data sets will revolutionize the social sciences. Close interaction between the urban engineering and social science disciplines will be a CUSP hallmark, particularly among NYU and CUSP partner universities.
Additionally, at the fertile intersection of the social sciences and “big data,” a principal challenge is to formulate the correct questions. A scenario you can expect at CUSP: social scientists bring us a question, CUSP researchers figure out how to acquire relevant data, then together with social scientists analyze and interpret that data.

Anchored in Downtown Brooklyn

CUSP supported personnel anchor their research activities in CUSP’s offices. There are many drivers that influenced CUSP’s decision to co-locate its activities — the multidisciplinary nature of CUSP education and research, the power of serendipitous “water cooler” interactions, the goal to be a presence in Downtown Brooklyn, and the energy derived from collocating teams. Moreover, the inherent multidisciplinary complexity of many urban science challenges necessitates having a resident critical mass of research capabilities.

Disciplines and Domains

CUSP research and academic activities have a domain/discipline structure that is very different from the usual department construct, and to important effect.

Disciplines are core informatics capabilities. CUSP is focused on the study of urban informatics — the collection, integration, and analysis to improve the efficiency of urban systems. The disciplines are organized as cross‐cutting areas. Research topics include “big data” fields of databases, visualization, systems, machine learning and data mining, as well as applied statistics, operations research, decision models and optimization, geographical information systems, and sensing (including the development of novel physical sensors).

Domains are the fields of expertise directly relevant to urban systems (mass transit, law enforcement, buildings, land use, public health, etc.). The domains correspond to relevant NYC partner agencies.

Organizing around the “what” of a problem (e.g., acquire transport data, model building energy efficiency, measure noise temporally and spatially) instills a pragmatic ethos while encouraging interactions among faculty pursuing diverse “how” approaches to a problem.

The choice and granularity of CUSP’s initial set of disciplines and domains are under development.

Envisioned Projects

CUSP’s vision is for an instrumented city that will yield data for researchers and students to collect, analyze, and interpret in order to improve the everyday lives of New Yorkers and the long-term health and efficiency of
New York City.

Sensors and cameras placed on traffic choke points, for example, would inform road design and signaling methods that speed commutes.

An infrared picture of the Manhattan skyline also holds many points of inquiry. Is the dense red an indication of an overheated building, or poor insulation allowing heat to escape? What can be done to mitigate the overheating/heat loss, and what would be the cumulative effect to energy usage if smartly applied across NYC?

CUSP will tackle such issues under the framework of “projects,” in collaboration with city agencies and industry partners. The projects will be major and minor in scope, resources, and duration.

In many cases, data sources already exist for such projects, awaiting CUSP researchers to unlock their potential to make the city run more efficiently and effectively. There are also opportunities for CUSP to devise data collection methods through existing or novel instruments, such as sensors for both in situ and remote measurement.

The totality of CUSP projects, built on its disciplinary and domain strengths, will over time, create an unprecedented “systems view” of NYC operations.

CUSP projects will possess important economic implications as well — from the jobs created to implement CUSP-proposed development, to the new ventures that could spin off from CUSP technologies.

Data Ethics and Privacy

CUSP will lead a new class of personal data users: non-profit research and academic institutions that will primarily use these data for educational and research purposes. In addition, CUSP will be tapping into novel data streams that have not traditionally been subject to privacy or security concerns.

We will establish internal policies and principles to ensure proper protection of individual privacy without keeping our researchers and students from “doing science.” These policies will lead the research community in establishing industry-wide ethical standards and principles. We need to always keep in mind the ethical, legal, and societal implications of our research.

Research Infrastructure

CUSP’s scope is urban informatics — the collection, integration, and analysis of data to improve the operation of urban systems and enhance the quality of life. To achieve this, CUSP will observe and analyze existing operations; utilize existing and newly emerging data streams; and explore and deploy novel urban sensors in order to model New York City as a system of living networks. Such activities require data curation and integration capabilities, an urban GIS capability, urban modeling and simulation capabilities. These tools, adapted to NYC, will be the institutional foundations that enable CUSP research and education. They must be capable, reliable, useable, interoperable, and universally available to CUSP researchers and students.

Short-Term Projects Under Consideration


Noise is clearly a huge quality-of-life issue in urban settings. It directly impacts the health of a city’s population, correlates with urban problems ranging from crime to compromised educational settings, and affects real estate values. While a number of interesting studies have focused on specific contexts and effects of urban noise, no comprehensive city-wide study has been undertaken that can provide a validated model for studying urban noise in order to develop long-lasting interventions at the operational or policy level. New York City, with its population, its agency infrastructure, and its ever-changing urban soundscape provides an ideal venue for a comprehensive study and attack on problems of urban noise.


The growing volume of data on buildings and their occupants presents the opportunity to expand our fundamental understanding of the urban built environment and the flows of energy, water, and waste within it. Coupled with the ability to use synoptic remote sensing, the acquisition, integration, and analysis of large-scale data can shift investment behavior and support data-driven decisions to improve building energy efficiency. For cities, targeted policies to maximize energy efficiency can be a cost-effective way to reduce total consumption and peak demand, lower carbon emissions, stimulate new investment, and create “good” jobs.


The ability to manage demand and optimize across transportation systems is key to improving operational efficiency and more effectively meeting customer expectations. Transportation service providers are confronted with rising costs, aging infrastructure, and environmental requirements, while continuing to meet the needs of a growing urban population. There are major challenges in understanding, monitoring, assessing, and making operational decisions necessary in complex multi-modal transportation systems. To make effective data driven decisions we must decrease the time required to collect, analyze, and provide actionable information to system operators and users. For example:

  • Meeting customer expectations for dependability, travel time, accessibility, transparency, and quality of service through the use of existing data, novel sensor systems, and improved visualization and human-computer interfaces to enable real time management of customer demand.
  • Providing the analysis necessary to support a more sustainable relationship between transportation systems and the environment.

Emergency Response and Hardened Infrastructure

The effects of Hurricane Sandy on NYC and surrounding regions highlighted the combined danger of extreme weather events and the reality of global climate change. Although federal, state, and local governments responded effectively to the demands of the catastrophic storm, there will be several “lessons learned” that will demand a more in-depth examination of effects and responses. The result will point the way to developing cost effective risk management and emergency management practices that address preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery for both natural and man-made disasters to assure safety and security. Also, the work will enable the assessment of needs to harden the key components of urban infrastructure in order to adapt to climate change impacts such as anticipated sea level rise.