Attendees of the Esri International User Conference in San Diego this week witnessed the unveiling of the Urban Observatory, a “live museum” that lets users simultaneously view real-time maps, images, videos, and authoritative data from major cities around the world. The Urban Observatory exhibit wows the senses and uses 30 screens to offer dynamic content from 10 cities that is organized around the themes of work, people, places, movement, and systems.
“The Urban Observatory tells the story of the global community through analysis of our largest, most unique cities,” says Esri president Jack Dangermond. “Interactive maps and standardized information let you investigate every aspect of life. It establishes a common language for cities to share and learn.”
Users of the free online application can view three cities simultaneously. When they zoom in to one digital city map, the other two city maps zoom in parallel, revealing similarities and differences in density and distribution. For instance, a person can simultaneously view housing density for Abu Dhabi, Hamburg and Tokyo or simultaneously view automobile traffic flows in London New York and Los Angeles (see image below).
“A map is a pattern made understandable, and patterns must be compared to understand successes, failures, and opportunities of our global cities,” says Richard Saul Wurman, one of the creators of the Urban Observatory. “The Urban Observatory demonstrates this new paradigm, using cartographic language and constructive data display. People and cities can use maps as a common language.”
Future iterations of the Urban Observatory exhibit and online application will include more content and cities. One goal is to provide government agencies and private businesses with data to help them make sound decisions. For example, governments can view commercial land use for one city and compare it to another, making discoveries along the way that have implications for their local municipalities. Businesses can explore population data, commercial buildings, and traffic patterns before choosing where to expand or relocate.
The Urban Observatory is brought to you by Richard Saul Wurman, creator of Technology/Entertainment/Design (TED) and 19.20.21; Jon Kamen of the Academy Award-, Emmy Award-, and Golden Globe Award-winning film company @radical.media; and Esri president Jack Dangermond.