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New York City’s Hudson Yards project has been designated as the United States’ first “quantified community.” Hudson Yards is a 28-acre mixed-use development currently being built over old rail yards along the Hudson River on Manhattan’s West Side.

New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) is partnering with Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group for the Hudson Yards qualified community project.

So, just what kind of community qualifies as being “quantified”? According to Esther Dyson, a New York City entrepreneur, angel investor and promoter of and frequent commentator on the “quantified self” movement, a quantified community is a designated geographic area whose residents—AKA “quantified selfers”—are “equipped with the tools (monitoring devices and software) needed to measure their own health and behavior (and, by doing so, to improve them). … So-called quantified selfers are monitoring their blood pressure, sleep cycles and body mass. At least some of them are using that information to improve their health and live more productively.”

Although Hudson Yards will be the first American quantified community, the phenomenon has been spreading globally for the past five years, with the annual International Quantified Self Conference set to run this year on May 10 to 14 in Amsterdam, in The Netherlands. In Moscow, through the Open Project Foundation, a startup called Antropolis is providing a map of community development projects and data about them.

As New York City's biggest development project since Rockefeller Center, Hudson Yards is an ideal setting for a quantified community laboratory. The project will contain 17 million sq. ft. of commercial and residential space—including office towers, retail spaces, a luxury hotel, residential buildings and a public school—and 14 acres of public parkland. Hudson Yards' first office tower is set to open in 2015 and its first residential building will open in 2017.

Residents and workers in Hudson Yards will be asked to opt in to the quantified community program, which will monitor their activity at home and work. According to an announcement made by CUSP this week, the data to be collected will include the following:

  • Measuring, modeling and predicting pedestrian flows through traffic and transit points, open spaces and retail space.
  • Gauging air quality both within the buildings and across the open spaces and surrounding areas.
  • Measuring health and activity levels of residents and workers using a custom-designed, opt-in mobile application.
  • Measuring and benchmarking solid waste with particular focus on increasing the recovery of recyclables and organic (i.e. food) waste.
  • Measuring and modeling of energy production and usage throughout the project, including optimization of on-site cogeneration plant and thermal microgrid.

The data is to be gathered through thousands of sensors installed throughout Hudson Yards, including smart thermostats, as well as through personal devices like smartphones. All data will be sent to secure servers for analysis by the CUSP team.

Jay Cross, president of Related Companies, Hudson Yards' developer, told the New York Times that the data and analysis will be used to make the community more energy efficient and to improve the quality of life there.

Dr. Constantine Kontokosta, CUSP's deputy director and head of the quantified community initiative, said in a statement earlier this week that the study “will create a unique experimental environment that provides a testing ground for new physical and informatics technologies and analytics capabilities, which will allow for unprecedented studies in urban engineering, urban systems operation and planning and the social sciences.”

This week Dr. Kontokosta also told Crains that the project’s goals “tie back to the center’s mission, which is to use big data to make cities better places to live.” In addition, he noted in a New York Times interview that the Hudson Yards quantified community data could help expand the definition of sustainability. So far, he said, sustainability has been more narrowly focused on water and energy consumption.

Crains reports that Hudson Yards’ green components make it an ideal quantified community laboratory. For instance, Hudson Yards will have the ability to generate its own power through an onsite generation plant. In addition, the project’s centralized waste management system will feature an underground pneumatic tube to transport various types of waste—retail, residential and recycled materials—to a central location for pickup, and  organic waste from cafeterias in the office and hotel towers will be converted into fertilizer.

“Taken together,” reports Crains, “the data streams could offer unprecedented insight into the many ways people interact with the built environment.”

But while generally enthusiastic about the quantified community project, the New York Times sounded a cautionary note: “Privacy issues, of course, loom over the program.” However, though aspects of the program may seem reminiscent of Dave Eggers’ popular 2013 novel The Circle, Crains reports that Dr. Kontokosta has emphasized that all data collected will be anonymous and entirely voluntary.

This article was republished with permission from National Real Estate Investor.