Fast Company

Data to the People: IBM's City Forward Suggests a New Technocracy

The website features something like a full-body scan of 55 major cities, drawing its data from many varied sources. Want to know about traffic patterns in New York? Living costs in Tokyo? Consumer spending trends in Chicago? It's all there.

Protest march in D.C.

A vision of the city as a glistening, well-oiled machine underlies IBM's new website, City Forward, which is officially inaugurated today. The City Forward initiative, which has been revving up for a few months now, collates the massive amount of data relating to cities in one clearinghouse, making it easier to use for those who make or influence city policy.

Put another way: "City Forward substitutes data for intuition," said IBM's Stanley S. Litow in a release.

IBM offers something like a full-body scan of 55 major cities, drawing its data from many varied sources. Want to know about traffic patterns in New York? Living costs in Tokyo? Consumer spending trends in Chicago? It's all there. Previously, it was often hard to pull together all the data relating to a single city in one place. Now not only can you do that, you can also compare similar sets of data across multiple cities, seeing what works and what doesn't.

Having all this data in one place might help citizens and lawmakers tease out relationships that could otherwise be hidden. IBM offers the example of someone who might analyze air quality, then draw conclusions about wireless Internet policy. Sound like a stretch? But the logic is there--and could be spotted in the data. Subsidized or more easily accessed Wi-Fi could promote telecommuting, which could reduce traffic jams, which could improve outdoor air quality.

The site, which is free to use, was made with money from IBM's philanthropic arm, partly in collaboration with MIT, NYU, and the Brookings Institution. IBM hopes people will use the data and tools on the site in applying for a grant in its $50 million Smarter Cities Challenge, which asks cities to "clearly articulate local urban challenges that technology might help address."

It's a good day for "open cities," in fact. A recent study also shows that an open city is a happy city.

Read More: Most Innovative Companies: IBM

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