Jane Jacobs in the Sky: Predicting Urban Vitality with Open Satellite Data

01/28/2021 ∙ by Sanja Šćepanović, et al. ∙ 0

The presence of people in an urban area throughout the day – often called 'urban vitality' – is one of the qualities world-class cities aspire to the most, yet it is one of the hardest to achieve. Back in the 1970s, Jane Jacobs theorized urban vitality and found that there are four conditions required for the promotion of life in cities: diversity of land use, small block sizes, the mix of economic activities, and concentration of people. To build proxies for those four conditions and ultimately test Jane Jacobs's theory at scale, researchers have had to collect both private and public data from a variety of sources, and that took decades. Here we propose the use of one single source of data, which happens to be publicly available: Sentinel-2 satellite imagery. In particular, since the first two conditions (diversity of land use and small block sizes) are visible to the naked eye from satellite imagery, we tested whether we could automatically extract them with a state-of-the-art deep-learning framework and whether, in the end, the extracted features could predict vitality. In six Italian cities for which we had call data records, we found that our framework is able to explain on average 55 urban vitality extracted from those records.

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