Category Data visualization

Urban Data and Urban Resilience

This article was published during my time at 100 Resilient Cities.

Cities in the 100 Resilient Cities network are embracing the use of information and technology to improve the livability of cities. Due to the growing interest in open data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and increasing use of sensors, cities are collecting and using data to plan for a multitude of resilience challenges, and inviting the civic and private sectors to take part in the process.

Using data for city services and planning

Large U.S. cities like Los AngelesSan Francisco, and New York have open data portals in which various types of information are published: data sets on active building permits, crime incident locations, traffic statistics, earthquake fault zones, among many others. In October 2018, 100RC hosted a three-day CoLab in New York to explore potential data-driven solutions to city services. London has been measuring issues that are less tangible, such as social cohesion. One of the city’s key metrics, that 84% of Londoners get along well with neighbors from different backgrounds, is based on interviews with local residents. The city also utilizes measures of factors such as overall life satisfaction and food security, providing critical insight to program and policy design (source).

Figs. 1. London’s well-being map. Each dot represents a borough.
Fig. 2. London’s Data Store dashboard, showing key indicators at a glance. The portal holds over 700 datasets of publicly-available statistics on the city.

Singapore applies its urban data toward planning new city sectors. The city’s Punggol neighborhood is a great example, designed by the Housing & Development Board (HDB), the city’s public housing authority, with both environmental and affordability concerns in mind. Data inputs such as wind flows, solar radiance, and the height of buildings were utilized to select the best locations for amenities as wide-ranging as parks, public plazas, childcare centers, and playgrounds. These all converge to allow children to be outdoors throughout the day, according to urban planner and HDB CEO Cheong Koon Hean.

Fig. 3. Wind and solar radiance modelling of the Punggol eco-town in Singapore.

Cities elsewhere are turning to data more than ever before to help solve pressing resilience challenges. The cities of Miami and Miami Beach recently received grants to develop a visual platform that will allow residents to see for themselves the impacts of rising sea levels on buildings and to plan accordingly for that future (source). New York City is working to coordinate a new level of data integration among its many municipal agencies, with the immediate goal of creating a 3D map of all underground assets. Greater Manchester’s Smarter City Programme has been working with stakeholders across six key themes to improve city operations and residents’ quality of life. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, the CityVerve consortium is optimizing bus schedules, preventing overcrowding on public transportation, and reducing journey times (source).

Engaging residents with data

It is estimated that by 2025 there will be more than 80 smart cities in the world (source). Advances in innovative technologies are dramatically changing both how cities operate internally and how they are interacting with their constituents. Yet how does the average person access urban data and make sense of it all?

Alex Dodds of the Sunlight Foundation suggests that it is the city’s role to not only inform its residents of progress through the use of statistics and data, but to also use those assets to create a common understanding and shared narrative (source). Dodds uses a Tactical Data Engagement process to bring data to the community level. By engaging with residents from the beginning, the process helps identify use case scenarios for data and build consensus on possible interventions.

The Urban Institute (UI) also uses in-person workshops to communicate data and findings with community members. In what UI developed into a Data Walk, community members are prompted to react to a simple visualization of statistics published by their city, allowing the organization to gather feedback directly from end users of public services, based on their personal experiences.

Fig. 4. A Data Walk session uses simple graphical data to prompt citizens to react and express their personal viewpoints on the data related to an urgent issue they are experiencing in their city.
Fig. 5. As cities develop their resilience strategies, 100RC uses a Perceptions Assessment tool to report back to city leaders how their initiatives match citizens’ perceptions.
Fig. 6. A City Resilience Index (CRI) graphic for Santiago, Chile. The CRI is a way for cities to assess qualitatively and quantitatively the city’s resilient qualities.
The informal sector context

While many cities in North America and Europe produce an overwhelming amount of data, cities in the Global South often face a data challenge of a different kind. Approximately one-third of the world’s urban population currently living in informal settlements, making it crucial to understand the context of this sector. In cities where neighborhoods were built informally, where the legal status of building ownership is blurred, and where the local economy is mostly driven by cash transactions, data collection requires more on-the-ground methods.

In cities like SuratSemarang, and Porto Alegre, 100RC has partnered with the World Resources Institute (WRI) to assess the preparedness of informal communities in facing climate risks. WRI’s Urban Community Resilience Assessment (UCRA) tool has been utilized to collect census-like data related to the quality of urban services, as well as individual perceptions on the vulnerability of communities to floods, landslides, fires, or earthquakes (source). With its heavy emphasis on technical aspects, UCRA also measures social indicators like the size and strength of informal social networks in a given community: how well neighbors know each other. This metric helps determine how well a community will adapt and recover from a given emergency, given that cohesive communities are more likely to help each other in times of a disaster.

Data and urban resilience

As cities continue implementing data-driven projects and smart city agendas, it is key for city officials to consider not only the collection and publication of data, but also engaging with citizens in data analysis and related resilience benefits. MIT’s Urban Risk Lab has taken this concept to a new level with a platform to crowdsource data collection and tools in times of flooding. Urban Risk Map, beta-launched in Florida in response to Hurricane Irma, is operational in Indonesia and Semarang, and harnesses social media and real-time reporting to aggregate flooding data into a map interface.

Fig. 7. RiskMap aggregates data from social media to create maps of flooded areas.

As the field of urban resilience continues to evolve, the factor which remains constant is community engagement. The situation is no different when it comes to data. Urban residents are key stakeholders for the collection and use of data, and their contributions are critical when applying that data to urban planning processes.

Sustainability Actors Map

In recent months I´ve collected basic information on how organizations, companies, and public sector institutions are using design methods to solve sustainability problems in three broad categories (social, economic, and environmental impact).

Sustainability map, from research to action. How organizations understand and apply sustainability practices.

Doing a scan of 116 organizations and companies that are using design methods for business, social, or environmental innovation, some highlights became apparent:

  • There appears to be a tipping point at which companies first begin learning about sustainability, and only later start applying sustainability in their own practices and in the services they offer clients.
  • Only 20% of the organizations act on the three areas of sustainability.
  • The next most common areas that organizations work on are: environmental and economic factors (also, around 20%), hinting at the fact that social sustainability may not have a business case for the organizations.


The results of this research helped create a better picture of how design methods are applied to sustainability issues, and get a better sense of the current best-practices.


Here are the 116 people, and organizations used in this infographic.

Access Project
Alt, Mark (See Center for Sustainable Design, AIGA)
Amatullo, Mariana (See designmatters)
Architecture for Humanity
Alexander, Christopher
BaSIC initiative, University of Texas, Austin
“Batten Institute, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia “
Bishop, Steve (See IDEO,
Beilenberg Institute
Benyus, Janine (see Biomimicry)
Biomimicry (concept)
Bolton, Steve (See MBDC)
Brown, Tim (see IDEO)
Buckminster Fuller Institute
Burke, Anita
Capra, Fritjof
“Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit (BAWB), Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University”
Center for Sustainable Design, AIGA
Center for Sustainable Innovation
“Centre for Sustainable Consumption, Sheffield Hallam University
“Centre for Sustainable Design, Surrey Institute of Art & Design”
“Charter, Martin (See Centre for Sustainable Design, Surrey Institute of Art & Design)”
Conserve India (bags & accessories)
Corporate Design Foundation
Cottam, Hilary
“Cox, Maurice. Director of Design, National Endowment for the Arts “
Cradle to Cradle (design framework)
Danish Design Center
“Designing for the 21st Century, University of Dundee”
Designmatters, Art Center College of Design
Designworks (See Rotman School of Management)
Design 21 Network
“Design and Innovation for Sustainability (Unita di ricerca), Politecnico di Milano”
Design for All Foundation
Design for the other 90%
Design for the world (ICOGRADA, ICSID, IFI)
“DKDS (Danmarks Designskole /
Danish School of Design)”
Domus Academy
Doors of Perception
Design that Matters, MIT Media Lab
DOTT, Stanford University Institute of Design
Earth Institute, Columbia University
EKOS International
Forum for the Future
Frog Design (Sustainable Design Initiative)
Fuad-Luke, Alistair
Global Academy
Global City (Aarhus)
“Global Poverty Mapping Project, Japan Policy and Human Resource Development”
GOOD magazine
Greener World Media
Hawken, Paul
Herman Miller
Herron School of Art and Design
“Heskett, John (See Hong Kong Polytechnic University)”
The hippo roller
Hirshberg, Gary (See Stonyfield Yogurt)
Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Inamori Foundation
INDEX: Design Awards
Innovation Lab (DK)
Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology
Integrative Design Collaborative
Kaos Pilots
Keely, Larry (See Doblin)
Kelly, Brian (See Sustainable Enterprise Academy)
Kotchka, Claudia (See Procter & Gamble)
Learning Lab, Denmark
Liedtka, Jeanne M. (see Batten Institute)
Light, Andrew
The life-straw
Lovins, Amory (see Rocky Mountain Institute)
MaDe In Lab
Makower, Joel (See Greener World Media)
“Manzini, Ezio (see Design and Innovation for Sustainability)”
Melican, Jay
Meyer, Michael (See Batten Institute)
The Moderns
Monday Morning (DK)
Natural Logic
The Natural Step
NatureWorks LLC
NextDesign Leadership Institute
Ocean Arks International
“Open University. Department of Design and Innovation”
Orr, David
Owen, Gary (See ResponseABILITY Alliance)
Palleroni, Sergio (See BaSIC initiative)
“Parrish, Bradley D. (See Sustainability Research Institute)”
Pré Consultants
“Prestero, Timothy (See Design that Matters, ThinkCycle)”
Procter & Gamble
Product-Life Institute
Reason, Ben (see live|work)
RED Unit, Design Council
Rematerialise project
ResponseABILITY Alliance
Richardson, Adam (see Frog Design)
Rocky Mountain Institute
“Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto”
Rural Studio
Ruxin, Josh (See Access Project)
Sanders, Elizabeth B.-N. (See MakeTools)
Schumacher College
Sheltair Group
Sinclair, Cameron (See Architecture for Humanity)
Slow Design (movement, philosophy)
Social Design (movement, philosophy)
Stanford Institute Of Design (see
Stonyfield Yogurt
Strauss, Carolyn (See SlowLab)
Sustainable Edge
“Sustainable Enterprise Academy, Schulich School of Business, York University”
Sustainable Everyday Project
“Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds”
Thomas Matthews
Todd, Sara (See Frog Design)
Todd, John (See Ocean Arks International)
Verganti, Roberto (See MaDe In Lab)
Willard, Bob
World Changing

“21_21 Design Sight Museum,Issey Miyake Foundation”

Gallery guide and exhibition graphics

This project dates back to 2002, in Minneapolis. The challenge was to create the graphic materials for the Walker Art Center‘s Walk Around Time: Selections from the Permanent Collection exhibition and a gallery guide that provides more information about the artworks and artists in the exhibition.
The result: A graphic identity for the exhibition was created that reflected the timeframe of the artworks in the galleries. A two-sided gallery guide was created that reflected this time-bound identity.

One side provided information about the artworks and mapped them according to the three curatorial tours of the exhibition. The back side provided personal information about the artists and mapped their respective cities where they were born, where they studied, and where they exhibited work. It became evident through this map that New York was the 20th century art capital of the world that connected most artists at some point in their careers.


Infographics posters

The brief for these posters was: to make (1) a student recruitment poster for AIGA (back then called the American Institute of Graphic Arts, now the Professional Association for Design) and (2) an intern recruitment poster for the Walker Art Center’s Design Department.
The Results:

1) AIGA Student recruitment poster. Using the copy provided by AIGA, graphic explanations were made using charts, graphs, and maps that expand upon the meaning of every sentence in the poster, providing more information about the graphic design profession on different levels, i.e. student life, cost comparisons, stages of the design profession, salaries through a designer’s career, and types of design occupations.


2) Design Internship poster. Two of the many questions intern candidates have about the Walker are: What does the Walker look like?, and what do design interns work on? The upper half of the poster represents all the public and private spaces of the museum. The photographs are arranged by floors, following the building’s elevation. The lower half of the poster graphically
represents the number of projects interns work on throughout the year. The projects are arranged chronologically, representing their duration and time-frame in relation to the entire internship.

Visual identity for

The brief for this project was to create a visual identity for, an online arts organization that can exist on- and off-line.


Using statistical information about the five major areas of the organization’s website, an asymetrical pentagon was algorithmically rendered. The resulting logo is updated every hour on the masthead of the website. The shape reflects current traffic and number of new artworks uploaded to those five areas of the site at that given time.


One of the final logo versions.


To reflect the ever-changing nature of the web-site, a series of eighteen stickers, twenty four logo variations, and eighteen color selections were created for the print identity. The stationery materials include eighteen stickers that can be used on white stationery and business cards. Each person has the freedom to choose his/her favorite sticker color and shape and apply them however they want on stationery.

A sheet of stickers with different logo variations. The stickers were then applied to stationary materials.


The business cards were available in different colors, with different shape and color variations.

On the back of the business card, an abstract explanation of the changing-shape of the logo was explained.