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Urban Sensing through User Generated Contents

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How social media can help urban planners

An innovative system to monitor social media for comments relating to public places and public services can help civil authorities gauge citizens’ opinions and respond with improved planning and management.

Digital Economy

City planners, managers and other authorities need to know how citizens use and respond to public spaces in order to support urban management and urban planning. Yet conventional information-gathering methods, such as surveys or observations, can be time consuming, costly, and limited in certain respects. Keeping in mind that many people offer their opinions on searchable social media, including Twitter and Facebook, the EU-funded URBAN SENSING (Urban Sensing through User Generated Contents) project proposed a smart alternative. The six-member project created text-mining software for collecting the user-created content in order to extract and analyse responses to public spaces and services. The system provides an ability to map and time-track responses that other analysis methods currently lack. The comprehensive information, broken down according to place and user profile can help civil authorities respond to public feedback via improved design and planning. To achieve its aims, the consortium developed a software solution that focused on collection of data from social media sources, in addition to annotation and indexing. It then worked on querying and analysing the obtained data, including filtering and aggregation. The team defined the indicators necessary to filter crowd data, identifying usage scenarios and requirements. The work also included identification of main data pools, implementation of data collectors for three social media platforms, and installation of CartoDB – a location intelligence and visualisation engine that transforms data into insights. The end result was a system capable of trawling social media for comments, and of analysing responses to certain places or events. Apart from the planned role in improving public services, the system also offers commercial opportunity for European small and medium-sized businesses. In the short term, however, discovering urban trends and visualising the information will help design better cities, conduct successful events and attract the right investors, as well as support geo-marketing and plan the future.


City planners, urban management, urban planning, public spaces, social media, URBAN SENSING

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