Big Data, Visualization, and Society

The Big Data, Visualization, and Society course (Spring 2016) worked with cell phone and social media data provided by the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to visualize policy questions around the development of Riyadh’s subway system, which is currently under development. Students analyzed the data with support from MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab (CDDL), HumNet Lab, Center for Complex Engineering (CCES) and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). The class, which is taught each year looking at different policy questions, aims to serve as an introduction to contemporary data analysis and representation methodologies and speculate about their potential impact in public policy and urban planning. This collaboration between MIT and KACST in Riyadh brings together a multi-disciplinary team of designers, planners, engineers, physicists, and computer scientists. The current iteration of the project focuses on the development of research for the construction of an “Integrated Transportation System” for Riyadh. The project is overseen at MIT by Sarah Williams (DUSP), Marta Gonzalez (CEE), and at KACST by Dr. Mansour Alsaleh and Dr. Areej Alwabil.

The Riyadh project theorizes about the social implications for Riyadh after the introduction of a new metro and bus system. The development of the system is motivated by the rapidly growing population demand (e.g. Riyadh’s population has doubled in the last 15 years). When complete, Riyadh’s transportation system will be the largest urban public transportation project in the world. Developed in a city where there was no previous public transport, it will include the rapid integration of 6 metro lines (87 stations), 24 bus routes (nearly 4,000 bus stops), and 20 parking stations. In a city dominated by cars, with no pedestrian infrastructure, and where women cannot drive, the introduction of the public transportation system will transform the urban and social dynamics of Riyadh.

The exhibition showcases the student work from “Big Data Visualization and Society” (Spring 2016) taught by Sarah Williams (DUSP), Michael Foster (DUSP), and Carlos Sandoval Olascoaga (PhD Student, Design Computation). The exhibition is curated by Sarah Williams and Carlos Sandoval Olascoaga with assistance from Lucy Liu and Waishan Qiu. Special thanks to Virat Shukla, Christopher B. Dewart, Irina Chernyakova, and MIT’s Center for Complex Engineering for the funding support.

Image: Pedestrian vs. Car: The image shows traffic congestion based on cell phone data analysis (red) compared with complaints on congestion (blue). Dennis Cameron Harvey, MCP '17 and Brandon Peterson, MCP '17.  

Course website: http://dataviz-riyadh.mit.edu