Posts Tagged ‘modeling’

Visualizations of  large data sets are hot, hot, hot these days! As is everything else related to data crunching. In a New York Times article from 2009, Steve Lohr (and a Google exec) whispered the word statistics into the ears of new graduates. Today, there is new demand for statistics classes on college campuses everywhere. From the Times:

“I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians,” said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. “And I’m not kidding.”

The rising stature of statisticians, who can earn $125,000 at top companies in their first year after getting a doctorate, is a byproduct of the recent explosion of digital data.

(Update: Steve Lohr’s article on Feb. 11, 2012 called The Age of Big Data, also in the NY Times.)

A class at Columbia University recently mapped trip data for 10,000 taxi rides in Manhattan in a 24 hour period. The result is what they call a ‘breathing’ map of Manhattan. The video is set to music by Rob Viola.

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In reading through an interesting series of posts by Andrew Revkin (here, here, and here – all behind the NY Times subscription wall, I think), I was struck by several ideas that have direct implications for planners and designers. Revkin states that science is clear on greenhouse gas function (rising CO2 levels mean a warming world), but science is much less clear about the specific effects of climate change that matter to people at the local level, in their communities and daily lives. We do not know exactly how much sea level will rise by 2100, for example. There are also many uncertainties about the sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2 levels. And on the regional climate models that planners would like to see, Revkin says:

I noted many climate modelers are convinced that regional climate forecasts — another top concern of officials and the public — are unlikely to improve much even with far more powerful computers and years of extra work on simulations. (Emphasis added.)

In reviewing these points, I noted, “That’s why this is what some complexity theorists call a ’super wicked problem.’”

So here we are – faced with a need to act (adaptation, rather than mitigation in this case), a need based on threats to health, safety, and welfare, and equipped with inadequate knowledge of exactly what will happen. Revkin’s larger point is that “while the basics of the science are clear, the science on questions that matter most to society is not.” In the two follow-up posts, Revkin publishes reader responses, one of which emphasizes the political argument that data may be less important to the public than the underlying values threatened by climate change – risks to life, property, and the economy.

The other follow-up is a response by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods. Louv critiques the term sustainability, which he says connotes stasis, and instead offers up “thriveability.”  Louv suggests shifting the debate to the creative and hopeful, but still rooted in concerns that matter to people on an individual basis, like the welfare of their children. And designers should appreciate the attention Louv and Revkin give to creative acts of place making that include the green, “natural” areas in cities:

… for the sake of biodiversity and human happiness, conservation is no longer enough; now we must create nature — where we live, work, learn and play. Those actions not only serve our immediate needs, but might also have an impact on biodiversity and climate change, or at least attitudes about climate change. (Emphasis added.)

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