A City Visualizes Its Own Inner Workings, With Infographics Powered By Cellular Data

Geneva offers a rare peek at the human infrastructure behind a city.

What if we mapped the world, not by political boundaries, but by its own people? The city of Geneva, Switzerland, asked this question. Ville Vivante, or "City Living," is the result.

It’s a project by Interactive Things, along with Lift and Near Future Laboratory, which traced cell phones to visualize the daily flow of people across Geneva. With the goal of capturing the "living rhythm of the city," a week’s worth of anonymized cell-phone data was provided by Swisscom. To put that much information in perspective, the phones of Swisscom subscribers make 15 million connections and 2 million phone calls a day. The data was then analyzed and visualized, so you can watch the city’s inhabitants migrate like wind, or even see the congestion at various public transit stations by hour.

"There are more cellular phones in Switzerland than inhabitants," Patricia Crousaz Pantet, executive consultant, Department of Urban Environment and Security for the City of Geneva, tells Co.Design. "The main goal of this project was to launch the debate about the digital traces, the opportunities of this data for a community, and to give more awareness to the population that this data will become an important source of information for public and private sectors."

A chart of cell-phone activity over time

In an era when many of us are concerned about our iPhones tracking our every move, Geneva has not just grabbed the issue of privacy by the horns, they’ve dished out a portion of meat and leather to every one of their citizens. They’ve shown how many of us, in our personal paranoia about our digital thumbprints, can actually forgo a bit of our privacy to offer something extremely useful to our neighbors.

Then again, maybe most of us actually care more about our own privacy than being neighborly.

[Hat tip: Infosthetics]

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4 Comments

  • gregg

    i have no clue what this is visualizing.  why would a cell phone call curve?  is this tracking people's phone as people travel or is it tracking calls?

  • Benjamin Wiederkehr

    To clarify a bit: The lines represent people's movements as measured by call handovers between antennas.

  • bheliot

    "Ville Vivante" actually means "Living City." In French you put the adjective after the noun. :D