Big datasets have been used by authorities and public bodies for centuries, whether in the form of the national census, maps, surveys or public records. What is new is the sheer volume, speed, diversity, scope and resolution afforded by ‘big data’, a term that describes the wealth of information now available thanks to a combination of ubiquitous computing and sophisticated data analytics. To optimists, this avalanche of information, if harnessed, provides valuable insights for everyone from company executives to consumers and from governments to citizens.
Urban planning and city services have always been a fundamental part of this story, with integrated data systems bringing a ‘second electrification’ to the world’s metropolises. As case studies of big data’s urban applications emerge around the world, what are we learning about the kinds of contexts which are proving most receptive to it? More specifically, how relevant is the age of a city in determining its interest in, and ability to use, big data? This briefing explores how both old and new cities have distinct advantages and disadvantages in their ability to use big data effectively, assessing how they deploy the tools, the lessons they can learn from each other, and their common challenges.