The Urban Observatory with Jack Dangermond and Hugh Keegan

Jack Dangermond and Hugh Keegan introduce the Urban Observatory and how it allows people to explore simultaneous views of major cities located around the world.

Jun 28th, 2014

Start From:
Player Color:

Right-click on these links to download and save this video.


00:01So we've talked about transforming all of India. What a vision. Jim is working on transforming journalism.

00:12I like to call it geojournalism. Isn't that cool? Pretty good idea.

00:17It's a great idea.

00:18This is my colleague Hugh Keegan, and we're going to talk about another kind of transformation.

00:25This transformation is about, what would you call it, Saul? Comparing cities, something like that. Understanding.

00:36This is a transformation of understanding. Several years ago, Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of TED, spoke here...

00:43...and he inspired us with a vision of being able to compare multiple cities around the world online.

00:50You would open up a city and compare one city to another.

00:54Hugh and his team have been working with Saul for a couple years and they've actually realized this.

01:00It's called the Urban Observatory, and it's expressed in two forms.

01:04First, a cool website that gets released when?


01:09Now. And second, incredible display. I mean it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

01:16It's living upstairs, and you're going to see it tonight.

01:19So, Hugh, why don't you actually show what this looks like, because it's...

01:23...and you might explain it better than I would. Hugh's a landscape architect, by the way.

01:30First of all, the Urban Observation site, it is live. Please visit it.

01:36I'm going to show you a little preview of the exhibit upstairs that's over here in the lower right-hand corner.

01:40Take a look at it. There's a really nice interview between Jack and Richard that talks about that. Alright, don't do that.

01:47So all of you might have found a poster in your seat this morning.

01:52That's kind of a status map of where we are with this project, and you can see that there are hundreds of maps.

01:58These are all multiscale maps. These are all published on ArcGIS Online. There's an Urban Observatory group.

02:04So the idea here is that cities can publish their own data and share it, and this is a totally democratic kind of idea.

02:12Come on ArcGIS Online. Come on ArcGIS Online. There you go.

02:17So you can see that we've got some data from Paris.

02:20We have a business partner that contributed some data to us which is great...

02:23...and thanks to all the municipalities and third-party business partners and distributors who helped us collect data for this.

02:29But let me just show you what the Urban Observatory's really about...

02:32...which is this application and the ability to compare things.

02:35So there are two huge ideas here that Richard developed in the 1960s. I hate to say it, Richard, but it's true.

02:43He doesn't look that old.

02:45If you're going to compare stuff, draw them at the same size.

02:50And if you're going to compare things, make sure you're representing them in the same way, they're drawn the same way.

02:57So in this case, we're looking at Mumbai 20 million people, New York City 20 million people...

03:04...Los Angeles, the area we're looking at, about 13 million people.

03:08So you might have some impression about...

03:09...I mean, did you know that Mumbai is only about a quarter the size of New York? It's got the same number of people.

03:15I didn't. I knew it had a lot of people, but I didn't know it had that many people.

03:19So the other big idea here is that we've intentionally called this an observatory...

03:25...and not a museum, because we want to have live data. We want stuff to be showing up all the time.

03:33So in this case, we're showing traffic, and this is real-time traffic.

03:36So, you know, you probably don't want to be driving in Manhattan right now.

03:41And London, surprisingly, always seems to have traffic.

03:45People have challenged me about, you know, is that data right? It's like, yeah, I think it's right.

03:49It's the middle of the night. It's still the middle of the night. It's nine hours ahead but still they've got congestion problems.

03:55So if we actually go back and look at that, and we're just going through a subset of these cities.

04:02There's all these comparisons you can make. My initial reaction when I saw this is...

04:07...Oh, we've got some bad data for Tokyo. Looks like bad data in Tokyo.

04:11In fact, the highest posted speed limit in Japan is 100 kilometers per hour, about 62 miles per hour.

04:17Compare that to LA which is the, you know, the universe of car traffic, and if we zoom in here... can see that Tokyo actually has a pretty good high-speed arterial system...

04:32...which the congestion charge zone in London does not, which is why it costs you £10 to drive in London.

04:41It's pretty interesting. Very interesting. At least I think it's interesting.

04:45So we're talking about traffic, and there's lots of other ways of mapping traffic, and we like cities contribute their...

04:51...if we were to look at public transit, we'd see a totally different picture between LA and Los Angeles, of course.

04:59But let's look at density here. And, again, a reminder, Mumbai 20 million people...

05:03...Tokyo about 32 million people, LA 13 million people, the area we're looking at.

05:10And let me bring up a legend here, so this might look a little strange here.

05:14Pink at the highest category, 30,000 people per square kilometer.

05:20And what we're trying to do here is - these maps - when we make a map...

05:25...Jim and Andy Skinner have put these together so that we're doing dasymetric mapping.

05:31We're trying to associate population with actual structures or with infrastructure in towns.

05:37So you can see that Mumbai's got a lot of buildings, a lot of buildings, and there's a lot of people living in them.

05:47So let's keep going on in this theme. So if you're going to have high population...

05:52...what are cities doing in terms of providing open space for their citizens?

05:57We're not going to call out any names here.

06:00You can draw your own comparisons, but let's drop another city in here and compare it across the board...

06:10...or even some place like this, Singapore, about 5 million people. It's pretty interesting.

06:18Wow. That's very interesting, because in Singapore it's little corridors.

06:21In Paris, open spaces everywhere. That's why I love Paris. LA - LA's gone.

06:28Alright. So this is a theme that Richard has used on us many times before.

06:32You only understand something relative to something you already understand. So you know Paris.

06:38It creates a sensation for you. So we can bring that when we start comparing cities to one another. Right?

06:46So this is another really interesting comparison, at least it is to me.

06:51If we look at Abu Dhabi, we can see that young people, and these are kids 18 and younger...

06:56...are kind of distributed throughout the community. Johannesburg, we've got these intense clusters...

07:02...and in Tokyo you have this really fascinating phenomena where the kids are distributed...

07:06...almost homogenously across the entire population, across every census reporting district.

07:12But if we switch this to seniors, and this is not a trick, what's going on in Abu Dhabi?

07:20Well, the seniors in Abu Dhabi get to live next to the coast and there's these two really beautiful parks.

07:26There's the lake park and the family park, and that's where all the seniors are.

07:31And in Johannesburg, you might have noticed there's a lot fewer seniors than there are kids.

07:37And in Tokyo, it's just the opposite.

07:39There are more people over the age of 65 in Tokyo than there are kids under the age of 14.

07:46That's very powerful. A really interesting phenomena.

07:48And we see the same sort of thing happening in Hamburg and other cities.

07:51So I'd encourage you guys to all try and use this application. It's on the Urban Observatory site.

07:57It doesn't have this URL. It's just Urban Observatory/compare and begin using it later on today.

08:04Come up and see the exhibit. And if you represent a municipal government or an organization...

08:10...that has authoritative data about the behavior of municipal governments...

08:14...we'd love to talk to you and get you to publish your stuff into the Urban Observatory group.

08:19And Jack has actually made this really easy, because he's made it free.

08:24There's details about participation on the Urban Observatory website.

08:28That's good. Thank you so much, Hugh.

08:29Were you going to mention something else about the www stuff, Jack?

08:33Well, maybe. I was first going to show the picture of the exhibit.


08:42So just to sort of - it's a little light out there now.

08:44But as it gets darker in the evening, these screens come through.

08:49And it has like helicopter flights over each city.


08:54Simulated, next to each other.

08:56We didn't have the budget to do the real helicopter flights.

08:57I know. You wanted to go to Paris.


09:01And it also has maps like Hugh was showing, one relative to the other...

09:05...but on 10 cities at a time, and they scroll through. It's pretty overwhelming.

09:09And it moves because there's more than 10 cities. There's only 10 cities at a time displayed.

09:14But it'll give you a sense of what this is about. We want a hundred cities.

09:18And the purpose of this is to, I don't know.

09:23What? Fifty percent of the populations living in cities now.

09:26In 30 years, 70 percent. Michael Batty says at the end of the century, 100 percent of the population will be in a city.


09:33So we have an opportunity to decide how cities might evolve and what we want them to provide to us as citizens.

09:41We're comparative animals. We're checking this versus that, and as we have a search for making it better...

09:48...more livable cities, we want to look at what best practices represent.

09:53And when you go up there tonight, you're going to be really overwhelmed.

09:57So first, I want to thank Richard for letting us work on his project. It's pretty amazing.

10:02Yeah. It's been great.

10:04Thank you, Richard.

10:05Thank you, Richard.

10:14I also want to thank him for something else.

10:16Last fall, he organized a conference in our campus called the www.www Conference. Richard knows about conferences.

10:25He started TED and ran it for many years. This was a conference which had very few attendees.

10:33It was just basically the people who talk with each other, and he developed a new style of communication.

10:39He calls it improvised conversation or intellectual jazz.

10:44And he's been very kind to build this into an app, but he's building it into an app...

10:51...but he's been very kind to give us, everybody attending this conference, Richard, a free copy of this.

10:57You'll be able to enjoy 33 hours of very interesting conversation between these people.

11:03And, frankly, watching this was one of the greatest events of my life. So, Richard, thank you, once again.

Copyright 2016 Esri
Auto Scroll (on)Enable or disable the automatic scrolling of the transcript text when the video is playing. You can save this option if you login


No comments. Be the first to write one below.

Comment on this Video