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Network Theory & Urban Analytics

Aretian is an urban design and analytics firm based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. I came into contact with the company over the summer and was immediately impressed by their method of synthesizing solutions from network theory concepts and data science techniques. Combining practices from complexity science, machine learning, urban design, and network theory, Aretian is answering the question of “How can we make our cities more livable, resilient, prosperous, and equitable places to live?” The firm is able to provide insights on how a community would react to economic disruption, or where and what are the most competitive industries in a city. They recently published their Atlas of Innovation Districts, which studies the top 50 innovation districts in the United States. This study analyzes each districts specialization, their economic impact, and the features of their urban ecosystems that inhibit and enhance innovative growth.

By defining collected data as nodes and edges to visualize the complex system of cities and their inhabitants, they are able to identify important qualities of each district. Examples of this are discerning the optimal locations for components, the fragility or resilience of a network, and the features of the relationships between parts of the network. In their recent publication, the firm describes that the most effective innovation districts purposefully develop three kinds of networks: networks constructed of individual workers collaborating within the labor force, networks comprised of organizations collaborating together, and networks of the physical environment of the district. I found this concept intuitive as it relates directly with ideas such as the strength of weak ties and triadic closure, which were covered in class. A network of individual workers collaborating together will likely be comprised of primarily weak ties; it is unlikely that every laborer share a very powerful personal connection, but these numerous weak ties are essential for the development of innovative districts because each individual in this network of talent possesses valuable skills that can be synergized to solve complex problems. I perceived the second and third forms of networks as representative of the principle of triadic closure and how it relates to the growth of innovative districts. By improving the physical infrastructure of urban districts and the connections between organizations within the district, the district will remain “well connected, desirable, and able to facilitate fruitful human interaction.” Improving physical design accelerates urban development because innovators will become more connected with each other. I believe this applies to the principle of triadic closure because if two innovators, A and B, are well connected with each other, and B is also well connected with an innovator C, it is very likely that A and C will ultimately meet and could devise and implement their own solution.

I found Aretian and their work fascinating because it is a clear application of topics that we are beginning to discuss and work within class, and demonstrates how solutions can be developed as a result.

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September 2019