Using big data to understand mixed use benefits

Phone usage throughout the day in Amsterdam.

In the 1960s Jane Jacobs shook urban planning with her famous work ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’. If you haven’t read it, give it a try, it’s a must-read! One of the things Jane Jacobs claimed after observing streetlife in her own neighbourhood was that city streets need to be occupied constantly to warrant safety and a pleasant atmosphere in public spaces. She claimed that mixed land-use patterns are necessary to provide constant occupation, and thus that there is a direct link between a city’s physical composition and its social sustainability. Unfortunately, apart from anecdotical evidence, proof from practice for Jacobs’s hypotheses has long been unavailable.

To verify whether land-use mixing indeed affects activity patterns I have recently used a massive dataset of mobile phone usage per antenna in Amsterdam, together with Piet Rietveld, Eric Koomen and Emmanouil Tranos. The used data are recorded by  Dutch mobile phone provider KPN and have kindly been provided by the Dutch ministry of Transportation.

That research proved beyond doubt that, yes, in Amsterdam mixed land-use patterns have more diverse and longer during activity patterns; and that in fact neighbourhoods that have more mixed land uses coincide with neighbourhoods that are more attractive. Thus these findings are, as far as I know, the first ever city-wide proof of Jane Jacobs’s assumptions. A full description of the methods and the results of this analysis have been published in Environment and Planning A. A summary of the research has been published in Rooilijn, a Dutch-language magazine for planning professionals.

For the Environment and Planning A article: click here.

For the Rooilijn article: click here.