Visualizing the Intensity of Urban Life

Manu Fernandez has gathered together a collection of visualisations highlighting the intensity of urban activity in cities around the world. The expanding urban landscape is generating a huge amount of data on the inner workings of cities and the social interactions occurring within these environments. The growing open data movement provides a rich ecosystem of data in which to visualize the fabric and life of these societies.

Some of the examples below represent the best formats of how to visualize the intensity of urban life through video and interactive web tools.

 US Road Fatalities (2001 – 2009)

Transport data mapping experts ITO World have taken official data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and produced a powerful interactive map detailing US road fatalities between Jan 2001 and December 2009. Each dot on the map represents one of the 369,629 people that died on America’s roads between 2001 and 2009.


The TrashTrack project asked the question “Why do we know so much about the supply chain and so little about the ‘removal-chain'”. The result was the fascinating video and visualization above which won the NSF International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge.

It used hundreds of small,  location aware tags attached to different types of trash to follow progress of trash through city’s waste management system. These revealed the stunning final journey of everyday trash in a series of real time visualizations. The project represented “an initial investigation into understanding the ‘removal-chain’ in urban areas and it represents a type of change that is taking place in cities: a bottom-up approach to managing resources and promoting behavioral change through pervasive technologies”.

London Bike Map

London Bike Share

This map visualizes all bikes of the public hire schemes in London and many other cities throughout the world.  The animated map displays information on the distribution of all the checkin points, the level of use at any given time and the availability of bicycles at each point.

Along with the interactive map, there is a superb real-time animation of the use of bikes in London.

London Hire Bikes animation from Sociable Physics on Vimeo.

Real-time Singapore

This visualization aims to provide a greater understanding of some of the city’s dynamics. It provides people with access to a range of useful real-time urban activity information. The aim is to give “people visual and tangible access to real-time information about their city enables them to take their decisions more in sync with their environment, with what is actually happening around them.”

For more visualizations of Urban Life, check out London: A Year in Maps ( and The best of 2011 (Spatial Analysis).


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