Cities That Talk Back: Using Social Media and Crowdsourcing To Analyze the Chinese City

PI: Sarah Williams (Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT)


Many cities have been represented through a filter of governmental data. While some local governments have made conscious efforts to make this data more publicly available, data access remains a challenge in many parts of the world. In countries such as China this data is often hard to obtain, or is aggregated into larger spatial representations which obscure the detail of the city and the people who live within it. The internet has in many ways revolutionized how urban data is both gathered and generated. Public opinion pages, online real estate sites, and similar Web 2.0 based websites generate a tremendous amount of data at a much finer level of detail than traditional sources. Similarly, Social Media sites have created the ability to describe the modern city through voice of its people and create an alternative publicly generated data set.

This proposal seeks to establish if we can mine social media applications in China to identify land use and activity patterns that help to further understand the economic landscape of the city. We seek to answer the question in two parts: 1) We will mine existing social media sites in China by scraping user data through their API’s and perform spatial analysis on the sites to determine land use and flow. 2) We will develop a geo­locative cell phone­based crowd sourcing civic engagement application that asks users to provide user input on what they value in the city. The results of both projects will generate a data set about the value, land use, and dynamics of the city where previous data did not exist giving real estate investors the added information they need to understand the Chinese City.