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Big Data and Big Cities: The Promises and Limitations of Improved Measures of Urban Life

Author

Listed:
  • Edward L. Glaeser

    () (Harvard University)

  • Scott Duke Kominers

    () (Harvard Business School)

  • Michael Luca

    () (Harvard Business School, Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit)

  • Nikhil Naik

    () (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab)

Abstract

New, "big" data sources allow measurement of city characteristics and outcome variables higher frequencies and finer geographic scales than ever before. However, big data will not solve large urban social science questions on its own. Big data has the most value for the study of cities when it allows measurement of the previously opaque, or when it can be coupled with exogenous shocks to people or place. We describe a number of new urban data sources and illustrate how they can be used to improve the study and function of cities. We first show how Google Street View images can be used to predict income in New York City, suggesting that similar image data can be used to map wealth and poverty in previously unmeasured areas of the developing world. We then discuss how survey techniques can be improved to better measure willingness to pay for urban amenities. Finally, we explain how Internet data is being used to improve the quality of city services.

Suggested Citation

  • Edward L. Glaeser & Scott Duke Kominers & Michael Luca & Nikhil Naik, 2015. "Big Data and Big Cities: The Promises and Limitations of Improved Measures of Urban Life," Harvard Business School Working Papers 16-065, Harvard Business School.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:16-065
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
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    JEL classification:

    • C18 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Methodolical Issues: General
    • C55 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric Modeling - - - Large Data Sets: Modeling and Analysis
    • C80 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - General
    • C83 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Survey Methods; Sampling Methods
    • R10 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - General
    • R11 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Regional Economic Activity: Growth, Development, Environmental Issues, and Changes
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population

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