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    Atlas of Lighting: a data game-changer


    Data can be complicated, and it’s constantly being collected. From surveys and polls, to websites tracking our browsing history, it’s everywhere and anywhere. Typically, we don’t see the results of this data affecting our everyday lives and quite frankly, it can be overwhelming. What does it mean? How does it affect me? What actions are being taken based on the results?

    The Civic Data Design Lab at MIT, in collaboration with the Center for Advanced Urbanism (MIT) and Philips Lighting, is working to answer those questions and more. The research group takes time to understand data, visualize it, and communicate the results to various audiences using design. In today’s digital age, data is more widely available, making space for tools grounded in new data sources. To corral and analyze this vast amount of data, the lab has created an interactive data mapping tool called the Atlas of Lighting.


    The Atlas of Lighting works to comprehend the dynamics of urban life by allowing users to view both quantitative and qualitative data to improve the understanding of how cities function. While typically used by researchers to analyze socio-spatial processes, it has the potential to become an engagement tool for the public. When data is placed into the database, it can be accessed by citizens to address specific questions which may reveal new patterns and complexities within urban environments, specifically with regard to lighting and its relationship with social and economic conditions. Furthermore, companies like Philips can use these crowdsourced findings from the public can help to fine-tune its strategies. 

    Atlas of Lighting example MIT

    The tool was named “Atlas of Lighting” because it’s used to understand lighting patterns accross different demographics in urban areas around the city. It can also illustrate how lighting intensities vary from city to city. The data is taken from satellite images, and is then processed and analyzed by the team at the Lab. Moving forward, the team hopes to integrate recent smart city technologies within the tool to create more detailed results.


    The team first utilized the tool in Chicago to determine how lighting intensity varies in diverse areas of the city by measuring statistics on demographics, intensity of urban development and nighttime light intensity. After the initial project, the team expanded their research by identifying urban locations that captivate a lot of people. These areas, known as ‘Urban Attractors,’ were recognized through geotagged Instagram posts and categorized using Google Places data. Aside from exposing new data and interesting patterns, this kind of research can assist policy makers with understanding how citizens use urban spaces, how services can be improved in various areas of the city, and assist in planning the development of business districs.

    Civic Data Design Lab researchers are currently designing a new version of the Atlas of Lighting tool, which will include four new cities, and a database creating a scalable tool for all projects. A tool like Atlas of Lighting is truly a data game-changer – making use of important urban digital data, and helping city stakeholders with planning and decision-making. 


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