Podcast: Science combines with data to reveal complexity of cities

Knowledge Applied examines research of urban science scholar Luis Bettencourt

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Luis Bettencourt, Pritzker Director of the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation, uses big data to understand how to approach urban problems and how to increase human connection through means like increased transportation.
Andrew Bauld
News Officer for Arts and HumanitiesNews Office

Editor’s note: Knowledge Applied is a podcast from the University of Chicago. Each episode will take listeners inside the research of UChicago scholars helping reshape everyday life. The first season of Knowledge Applied will feature researchers tackling some of the biggest questions facing cities today.

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Luis Bettencourt is a theoretical physicist by training, but rather than study black holes or string theory, he uses data to better understand cities in new and predictive ways.

Bettencourt has spent his career studying complex systems—first as a researcher at the prestigious Santa Fe Institute and now as the inaugural director of the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation. Those systems encompass any linked group of things, from ant hills to financial systems, and Bettencourt said cities are some of the most interested complex systems of change, the likes of which have rarely been seen in nature.

“Cities are really the places where people come together and change is generated,” Bettencourt said. “Cities are really these nexus, these inventions by which humans can amplify their capabilities and create a lot of changes.”

Bettencourt’s research into cities, which has been covered widely in outlets including The New York Times and the podcast Radio Lab, utilizes big data to determine how to increase human connection in cities through means like increased transportation, while reducing obstacles such as crime and segregation.

On this episode of Knowledge Applied, we talk with Bettencourt on how he’s combining science and policy and using data to capture “the magic of cities for the common good.”  

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