(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 333: Scheduling Cities and An Infrastructure Optimization

May 13, 2021

This week we’re joined by Laura Schewel, Co-founder and CEO of Streetlight Data and Carlo Ratti, Director of MIT’s SENSEible City Lab to talk about what we’ve learned from data during the pandemic. They also chat about what it would mean for infrastructure to be optimized if we rescheduled cities in a way that works for everyone at all times of day.

For the full (currently unedited) transcript click through below:

Jeff Wood (1m 39s):
Well, Laura Schewel and Carlo Ratti. Welcome to the talking heads.

Laura Schewel (1m 48s):
Thank you for having me. Thanks for having us

Jeff Wood (1m 50s):
Well, thanks for being here before we get started. Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves? We’ll start with Laura and then we’ll go with Carlo.

Laura Schewel (1m 55s):
Sure. I’m Laura, I’m the CEO of streetlight data, which is a transportation data and analytics software firm. And we process data to try to describe how everyone is moving all the different modes of travel and how those modes interact. And then before I was CEO streetlight, I was a grad student and I was before that and working at the federal energy regulatory commission and Rocky mountain Institute, all on vehicle electrification, I’m passionate about cities and how technology is changing our cities today in different places.

Jeff Wood (2m 38s):
And what got you all into cities, like what kind of tuned your brain to start thinking about the places where we live and being interested in that topic?

Laura Schewel (2m 45s):
I came to it from a very transportation angle when I was having my climate, you know, epiphany about how scary climate change was and how I probably should work on that the rest of my life, but it became very clear that transportation was a big part of it. And I think one of the least studied parts of what we need to do to change the course of our climate trajectory. So it came to you through transportation and it became clear that density and land use all of which brings you back to cities is the lever of change for transportation emissions. And that’s how I came to it.

Carlo Ratti (3m 17s):
Let me tell you just for numbers about cities two 50, 75 and 80 cities are only 2% of the surface of the planet that they are 50%, a little bit over 50% of the population. There are 75% of energy consumption, 80% of CO2 emissions. So we can do something to make our cities a little bit more sustainable. That could be a big deal.

Jeff Wood (3m 40s):
That’s interesting to break it down in such simple terms. I imagine you’ve been sharing that information for quite a while.

Carlo Ratti (3m 47s):
Well, no, at the end, there’s many dimensions to cities, but when you want to look really at the hard numbers in terms of sustainability, you know, then it’s quite simple. And, and again, you know, if we can make our cities better, the whole planet benefits, significant

Jeff Wood (3m 60s):
You all work together often as, as a partnership that is pretty frequent.

Laura Schewel (4m 4s):
We have been working on similar topics and running into each other’s for eight years now. So I think it’s more working in parallel on the academic and more business side of the same coin.

Carlo Ratti (4m 14s):
Yeah. Th th they’re similar approaches to how we look at cities using a lot of the big data and to see how big data can help, better understand how cities work, especially transportation data. But I would say Laura is right. It’s more about, you know, being on parallel tracks and crossing paths now. And then speaking

Jeff Wood (4m 31s):
Of crossing paths in the last few weeks we’ve had on Andras and Dr. Mindy full love to talk about commercial districts and main streets. And, and one of the things that keeps popping up in these discussions is we can strong ties. And I’m curious from your all’s perspective, kind of what’s happening to some of these weak ties during the pandemic.

Carlo Ratti (4m 47s):
First of all, I wanted to say, Andrew, this is not only a good friend and a colleague at MIT, but also, you know, we were working together a sensible city lab at the very, very beginning and talking about weak ties. What we’ve been doing over the past couple of years, actually monitor connectivity on the MIT campus. Seeing who’s talking to whom in an anonymous way and what you realize, and you know, we’re still working the results. So take them with a pinch of salt. They haven’t been vetted by peer review. What you realize is that actually, if we only connect digitally, our strong ties get even stronger. If people we already know a lot, but our weak ties, you know, the people we bump into when we are on campus, when we are in the office or when we adjusting public space for that matter.

Carlo Ratti (5m 31s):
So the weak ties are getting even weaker. So somehow that said, it’s troublesome because a weak ties bring your value to our social networks. There’s a lot of creativity that comes from these kind of random encounters. And it turns out that physical space is one of the best catalysts for that.

Jeff Wood (5m 48s):
So what does that mean post pandemic? I mean, are we going to get back to having more weak ties? Are we going to get back to the office? Are we going to be traveling more or less? Does any of the data that you all have been at? Tell you kind of what the future might be?

Laura Schewel (5m 59s):
It doesn’t tell us what the future might be. Cause all it tells us is that if someone had told us to predict what would happen to mobility patterns, say if 40% of people worked from home for a year, we would not have predicted what happened over the last year. Like we would have gotten it wrong. So just the data to confirm exactly what Carla was saying is that we see more people moving around the vehicle miles traveled are very similar in the United States to where we were before the pandemic they’re down. But not as much as you think because people are still moving around. They’re just moving around more in the outer parts of the city. So a way to think about that is they’re staying more in the rings, not going to the more dense parts of downtown at the same level. So that does not bode well for connectivity.

Laura Schewel (6m 40s):
But also if we talk about a post pandemic life, I don’t know if I can predict the future, but I will say if the future stays like we are here one year into the pandemic, it’s not great for a lot of the things we want in cities, which is densification, the loose connections you see between people transit ridership’s we really need to embrace the end of the pandemic if, and when it comes as a time to push ourselves to, I don’t want to say change back, but to re-emerge better than we were before in the way that we use our cities and the way that we use our cities to bring each other up across all the different parts of it.

Carlo Ratti (7m 14s):
Yes. And one of, one of the consequences of this, I think is a good, we’ll go back to physical space more and more. So we’ll go back to our offices. Now, I’m not saying we’ll go back to where we were before. I’m pretty sure we’ll continue smart working. I dunno, it depends on the company, but you know, it depends on what we do, but certainly one to three days per week, even more, but certainly we will go back to physical space so far. We haven’t found a good alternative physical space really for creating that serendipitous encounters are so important for our social networks.

Jeff Wood (7m 47s):
And Laura, we knew that the pandemic, you know, at the beginning, the traffic took a dive, but like you said, the VMT is kind of gone back to whatever quote unquote normal or a pre pandemic level. But if the trips aren’t happening for work trips or for some of these trips to school and things that people are staying in for what, what are they happening for? Like why are people traveling?

Laura Schewel (8m 4s):
So to be clear, we still are down a bit on VMT in most parts of the us. We’re just not dumb all that much. So there’s several consistent characteristics. So first the trips are happening, not downtown, wherever the city is, they’re happening further out in the rings. And second, the trips are happening later in the day. So before the pandemic, like our travel trends on a weekday look like a camel, there’s a hump in the morning and a hump in the afternoon. Now in almost every city, it looks like we’re like a, I don’t know, an elephant or a drama dairy where it, it sort of builds up to midday and then just stays high through what was traditionally the afternoon and evening rush. So it’s a different shape of travel, a different spatial distribution of travel in terms of the trip purposes.

Laura Schewel (8m 46s):
You know, there’s been a lot of studies that wherever you live, whatever your mode of travel, whatever type of society you live in, people have a tolerance of being on the move a couple hours a day, whether walking or driving a sports car. And I think people just need to move. We certainly see a huge uptick in outdoor recreational activity. I think everyone sees that. So when we see it in the data, right, we see a huge spikes in activity at trail heads and parks. But I think people are, you know, going somewhere for the heck of it or maybe going to pick something up like a meal or a new pair of shoes, whereas before they would have gone and spent an hour shopping or eating now it’s vehicle miles are the same. If you go pick it up. So we see this deep need to move that hasn’t gone away.

Laura Schewel (9m 30s):
It’s just been redirected.

Carlo Ratti (9m 31s):
It’s a very interesting point. It’s actually related to a famous hypothesis by the physicists called Marchetti. Marchetti really says, you know, it doesn’t matter really what you have to do where you live, if you need to commute or not, but we’ll just spend a fixed amount of time, kind of a travel budget every day. And it looks like what we’re seeing today is confirming Sam of that in the same guy. I won’t try to, if you just change the pattern over the course of the day, what are you going to need? Very interesting because you flatten the curve of transportation enhance. You can use better our cities in their infrastructure.

Jeff Wood (10m 4s):
Well, that’s an important point because I know that the number that stuck in my head is like 19% of trips are work trips, but we design our cities around this twice a day trip where you’re coming and going. And so, you know, the idea, I think that you brought up Carlo in terms of rescheduling cities is a really important one and thinking about how we can kind of change our patterns after everything kind of, I always want to say, go back to normal, but I don’t want it to be, I don’t want that to be normal. So go back to pre pandemic times, right?

Carlo Ratti (10m 30s):
Yes. That can be much better than pandemic time. You know, if you want, one of the tragedies of the 20th century was really people doing exactly the same thing at the same time. And that means, you know, I have in Russia where twice a day or more, and you know, everything is congestive and you suffer because of traffic jams. But if they’re able to be more flexible with our lives, you know, maybe we work in the morning, we connect from home, we use zoom or teams or digitally connected, digitally work from home and then go to the office. We don’t need to get to the office exactly the same time we get later. And that people go back on earlier. So if we do the, you know, the impact on the check would be huge. It’s similar to what happened with flattening. The curve of COVID when the falling there, if we flatten the curve, then the healthcare infrastructure will not be overwhelmed in a similar way.

Carlo Ratti (11m 16s):
The same principle can help us to flatten the curve of the city so that we don’t overwhelm their infrastructure.

Laura Schewel (11m 23s):
Yeah. It’s interesting. What’s happening in the pandemic is really an infrastructure optimization. Like we’ve never had a shortage of infrastructure in general. We just have a shortage if 3 million people want to get to downtown San Francisco at exactly the same time of day. Right? So in a way, what we’ve done is a, is an optimization, which from an engineering standpoint is good. But my concern is that it also has reduced our incentives to use transit and to live a little more densely, like congestion is a very strong incentive to driving alone. So when we talk about coming back to the pandemic better, the idea of this smart rescheduling needs to be coupled with, well, that doesn’t mean we can all just relax and it’s easy to drive your car everywhere, right?

Laura Schewel (12m 8s):
Like if I had to go to the office in downtown San Francisco, if I had to go at five in the morning, which occasionally I did, I could drive because it would take 15 minutes. We don’t want that to become the norm for everything. So we have to do a little thoughtful policy implementation around this concept as well.

Jeff Wood (12m 23s):
Yeah. I agree. The Bay bridge, I feel like though is always going to be congested in some form or fashion. And I hope that, you know, we actually had folks on talking about link 21, which is a second tube. Hopefully something will be done about that specific corridor. But I agree with you generally. Like I, I just think that we can’t do that anymore. We can’t all be worried about, we have to take transit and can all drive by ourselves. You know, this is, this brings up another interesting thought about yesterday. There was a piece in city lab about Amsterdam and how they had a plague in the 17 hundreds. I don’t know if you all read this piece, but 10% of the population died, but what happened was they bounced back really fast because they were allowed to be a little bit more innovative. And I think that that’s something that you all probably are thinking about and all these innovations that are happening and what could you see happening now because we’ve had a chance to rethink what’s happened during the pandemic for after the pandemic?

Laura Schewel (13m 11s):
I have two examples. I think we do have this opportunity. First. One of my favorite things in the pandemic was how quickly pedestrian zones and outdoor dining were set up. If you’ve ever been part of a city planning process to get a parking spot removed, or to get outdoor seating at a restaurant, it is brutal and vindictive and can take years. And the fact that this made us realize that we could do it overnight and adapted as we learned, that was wonderful. And I would love to see that, Hey, let’s try something and not let any kind of change be, you know, a civic apocalypse that is great. And I really hope we continue that. And the other thing, so streetlight, what we make is a digitization technology. And we actually saw usage of our product by existing customers, double in the first four or five weeks of the pandemic, because all of a sudden customers realized that if you have to work from home and run a transportation system from home, all of a sudden new and modern digital tools are the only way, right?

Laura Schewel (14m 9s):
So I think it’s accelerated a lot of other smart governments technologies because I’ve heard this from other gov tech software providers that all of a sudden it, it really helped people get over the hurdle for adopting something new.

Carlo Ratti (14m 21s):
I really like this it’s really about, you know, being able to innovate faster is more about the new approach to cities. I would say it’s more similar to natural solution and we’ll try mutations and see what works, what doesn’t it will be started doing with our city is trial and error. You know, we couldn’t anymore perpetuates models from the past, the condition, everything changed and we didn’t have any reference. And so we had to really start innovating in a much faster rate. And I do hope that this will stay with us longer after dependent, and then there’s outside, there’s travel

Jeff Wood (14m 52s):
And external and streets and all those things. But then there’s also insight and interior design, even design of buildings and things like that. How do we see those things being affected by this opportunity for innovation?

Carlo Ratti (15m 3s):
I would say we need to look in different ways that office is at home. So for offices, I think there’s probably a good opportunity to downsize of hearing other companies, you know, having started already to downsize and then you want to design the office. So that will promote some of those serendipitous encounters. We were saying before. So promote serendipity in the creation of weak ties and the same time. Some of that real estate might actually be very useful in our homes. You know, many of us wish we had an additional room during the pandemic, you know, especially if you’ve got more than one person having to, to connect digitally to smart work or to learn digitally. And so some of those square footage, you can actually move to real estate and to, to, to, to residential in there, I think we almost need to redefine what are essential minimum qualities now in the 1920s, really following the past pandemic, there was a broad term called existence minimum, you know, what are the minimum existential needs perhaps?

Carlo Ratti (16m 1s):
And I think we need to redesign that. And we think that now in the past year, what would that look like? Well, you know, it, although the things we’ve be really wishing we had over the past few months, you know, probably more access to dream, to nature, to daylight, more flexibility, the ability to create the corner where we can actually have multiple zoom calls happening at the same time. So maybe you also find it a way to open up more our homes to the friends. You know, if you spend more time at home in our domestic environment, you can, we actually make it more sociable. I recently had a very interesting experience with a friend in China and, you know, that started using the kitchen almost like in a collaborative restaurant, inviting everybody for dinner.

Carlo Ratti (16m 43s):
I think cooking together and using that to their gain is a way to foster connections. So somehow many of years in that’s really where architects designers, planners can really start thinking about the new existence minimum following code.

Laura Schewel (16m 58s):
I think the point on the connection to outdoor space is so critical. Just the value of having a little bit of a porch or a little bit of a backyard became extraordinary in the pandemic. Similarly, the value of being near a park, walkable to a park and near like a tree line place with a sidewalk, it always had value, but we were reminded of the value of these sorts of simple outdoor spaces. And I hope that that gets reflected in the neighborhood planning as we go forward.

Jeff Wood (17m 24s):
It seemed like it was valuable for nature too. I mean, we saw here in San Francisco, at least I know that I heard the birds much more because of the quiet that was occurring. And I think though some places might have been a little bit overwhelmed by the quiet places in New York city where people are so used to noise. Maybe the quiet was a little bit disconcerting too, since both of you have started looking kind of deep into data of cities. What surprised you the most or broken assumptions you or the general population have had about cities or even mobility?

Laura Schewel (17m 52s):
For me, the biggest surprise was how little working from home reduced VMT and not just working from home, but eating from home and schooling for a moment, everything from home. And I think it really underlined to me that when it comes to transportation behavior, we don’t have a good handle on cause and effect. Like we know that more dense cities have less driving and that’s true. But beyond that, we really don’t have a deep understanding of transportation behavior and our reaction to certain interventions and the pandemic just made it glaringly evident. So for me, it made me really excited to take on a new era of studying what policies really can work to do drastic VMT reductions that we need to meet our carbon goals.

Laura Schewel (18m 35s):
So that to me was the biggest shock. I also was unpleasantly surprised that there was no reduction in traffic fatalities though. I think the data shows a sense, the reasons why that happened, but that I felt that was going to be a silver lining. And it was not

Carlo Ratti (18m 48s):
Something that surprised me. He’s not really during the pandemic, but last summer, when many countries in Europe opened up or even now in Israel, thanks to the vaccine, either it has opened up, you know, how fast people really went back to big cities, wanted to be together and want to be together. I believe in Israel today, you need several months in order to make it a Western reservation. So somehow how strong this force that binds us together in cities is, and how fast it rebounds as soon as you remove social distancing. So I think what we’ll see over the next few months would be a lot of that fact coming together in physical space.

Jeff Wood (19m 25s):
Yes. I kept seeing news reports about how packed the pubs are in Britain because they opened the Mack up again. You know, you can’t imagine an English person without their beer and their beer hall. So it looks like they’re having a good time. I wish I could do the same. I’m waiting for those vaccines to get back together. Carla, what’s the weirdest place you’ve ever put us.

Carlo Ratti (19m 45s):
Oh, it’s very interesting. I can mention two of them. You know, we did a project called trash tracks and we put the other sensors on trash and waste and follow waste across all the United States, starting in Seattle. And then looking at different types of ways, you know, a little bit like when you put a tracer in your plant in nuclear medicine in order to see how your body performs doing the same and the scale of an entire city, an entire country actually, and looking at how waste is been managed and how we could do that better. Something else that you know, is we’ve been putting sensors in, in sewage and that actually in order to monitor viruses and bacteria, sewage, I project called underworlds in order to really understand somehow call it the collective microbiome for enable and that other, this research project actually a up with started, which has been very, very successful during COVID in order to analyze with water and detect COVID and understand, you know, the prevalence of COVID in different parts of the city.

Jeff Wood (20m 44s):
Yeah, they, they did that. I think it was Arizona state where they actually found in the dormitories that had COVID and they didn’t even know it. So they were able to quarantine before they could spread it to pass it along. So, and they’d put sensors in the, in the sewer system to figure out that connection. So those are really interesting ways to look at the connectivity between everybody and everything, especially the waste products and, you know, whatever happens between then and there. So it’s really fascinating to think about all the places and the things that we can do if we think a little bit harder about the connectivity of it all. So Laura, we talked about VMT a little bit. We’ve seen data that shows that urban cores and wealthier areas kind of benefited from the walkability, but, but places maybe that were outside, maybe didn’t benefit as much.

Jeff Wood (21m 25s):
There’s a kind of an equity question about that. I’m curious, is there some optimism in the data that gives us hope that we can change some of those land use decisions in the future that maybe when we have another pandemic, we won’t have such disparities in terms of who has access to walkable areas and streets.

Laura Schewel (21m 41s):
I do not find all that much hope in the data because the other thing we saw in the data was low-income areas were where the essential workers worked and they kept on going to the hospitals and the warehouses and the restaurants for the food prep. And so what more gives me hope is some of the new political emphasis on tying infrastructure to accessibility and equity. So I hope in a few years to see it in the data. I think the only thing that gives me hope in the data is that we can definitely measure it now, whereas before you could feel it, but it was hard to measure empirically. And in the past five or six years, all sorts of new data techniques have come up where we can pretty easily light up a map of the us and say, here is where we have the most disparity about access to grocery or access to jobs or access to green space and walkability.

Laura Schewel (22m 24s):
So I guess the availability of the data gives me some hope, but more I’m hopeful about the rising political will to implement what it is that we see.

Jeff Wood (22m 32s):
Have you all taken a deep look at the American jobs plan that the Biden administration has pushed out. And do you have any thoughts on, on that?

Laura Schewel (22m 38s):
Yeah. I mean, you can only take so deep a look cause it’s still not, you know, a full bill, but there’s several things I really like about it. The first is the emphasis on saying infrastructure can cause this equity and can certainly cause climate and climate and criteria, air emissions, thus infrastructure planning should take those three things into account, not just the traditional metric for transportation infrastructure planning, which is level of service. So that fundamental change, if we can make our infrastructure goals and more importantly, our infrastructure funding explicitly aligned with equity climate, then I’m very excited about that. I’m also very excited about the broader definition of infrastructure.

Laura Schewel (23m 20s):
And I think that is critical when you have money to spend and it’s supposed to help say equity, but all you can spend it on is rebar and concrete. You’re actually limited in what it actually achieve. You need holistic looks at infrastructure. So I’m very excited about all that. And I’m excited about the money going to vehicle electrification. I do wish that the plans for reducing total miles driven in personal cars were as robust as the vehicle electrification plans. It seems like there’s just a lot more knowledge and a lot more granularity in the V part than there is in some of the other parts. I think that reflects the status of the industry, but I hope to see that part deepened as we move forward into rulemaking.

Carlo Ratti (23m 60s):
I agree with all of this and my impression in the discussion, not really in the plan, which is still fluid and be finalized within discussions. People still think, yes, it’s not only concrete, but it’s about physical infrastructure. And what we were saying before is that tree, how sometimes just changing the use of infrastructure using digital platforms in order to use data to better understand the condition of the city. Well, sometimes, you know, daddy’s is even better. It gives you a better bang for the buck. You know, every investment you do, there can actually be better than investment in physical infrastructure. So what I would expect is the plan is finalized is really to focus on that as well on how we can improve our cities, not only with the physical side of things, but also we silicone with the digital side.

Jeff Wood (24m 41s):
That’s a really good point. I mean, in transportation, I think a lot of people are expecting big changes with technology specifically in curb management and parking space management and access management to city centers, congestion pricing, those types of things, but not most of those are so focused on congestion and motor vehicles that I think sometimes we forget the people aspect of moving in cities and places. I’m curious if you all have any thoughts about shifting that discussion because a lot of the discussion, even the discussion is all about cars and vehicles rather than kind of the purpose of electrification is so that you can have vehicles that are not polluting, but then you can move more people around, hopefully anyways, is there a way to talk through the pure vehicle discussion to a discussion about humans?

Laura Schewel (25m 20s):
So I think there is a way, but also keep in mind that this is the American jobs act and classically, it is much simpler to explain the connection of auto manufacturing and concrete infrastructure and their connection to jobs. And I understand like I get it, like, of course it’s easier to explain that, but I also think the jobs potential for the Silicon part, you know, the software and the infrastructure and the decision support is also immense. And that creating bike lanes also makes a lot of jobs and works also creates a lot of jobs. So I think it’s beholden on us. I mean, Biden has been very clear that the terms he wants to talk about this in our jobs. And I think it is beholden on us if we want to get it passed to frame it in that way as well.

Laura Schewel (26m 3s):
But I love the part Carlo makes that one of the challenges we’ve had people trying to make government smarter is money is so entailed. Like there could be a billion dollars available to expand a highway, but the agency is literally not allowed to spend 50 or 75 grand to do analytics, to figure out if they should expand the highway at all. So allowing more flexibility and allowing infrastructure decision support, as well as the physicality of the infrastructure itself to be spent on that is just so critical and it’s wonky and nerdy, but it really holds up a lot of important.

Carlo Ratti (26m 37s):
Yeah. The interesting thing is here, when you think about infrastructure, people often think about best practices, so best practices, great in a space that doesn’t change that match that a good way to go, but basically best practices lock the future into the past. You’re looking at the past, if you can, what worked well? And then you use that ethanol repeat design for a future. And I believe that here, you know, going back to your point about mobility and looking more at people, I think we got many new technologies. Even you think about micro mobility, which is great because it’s made micro mobility like e-bikes scooters, Doppler scooters in some is great because it actually makes mass transit much more competitive because you can jump off the subway and then jump on a scooter to the last mile and some or other innovations that are happening now in the space of delivery and logistics, how you can have smaller vehicles for that as well.

Carlo Ratti (27m 28s):
Otherwise our city second, just to be congested because of all the deliberative tracks you’re moving around. So perhaps you should use what we were saying before this trial-and-error approach, testing something more senior to what happens with venture capita. You try something small stage to see if it works. And if it works, you grow to the next level to the next level is very different than how we’ve done infrastructure into the past. But I think that is very, very needed today when actually the infrastructure tomorrow might be very different than the infrastructure for yesterday. Like autonomous boats, autonomous flying cars. Yeah. You know, we’re working on that it was, that was a response to the city, wanted to do another, you know, being a leader in autonomy, but Amsterdam is the city made a lot of canals.

Carlo Ratti (28m 13s):
And so we came out with this, this idea of robot robots for voting boats and, you know, shuffling people around it. There’s some of that. So next time you’re in town, let me know and I’ll take it for an autonomous.

Jeff Wood (28m 25s):
I’d love that. So reading through the notes, I keep thinking about DNA and movement and how we can look back in history at migration patterns, we’re looking at migration patterns and data, obviously with what Laura is doing and what Carlo obviously you’re doing as well. But you know, one of the things that’s really fascinated with me in the last year or so is there’s a national geographic piece, but also I think it was a Nova piece about the Omnia, a major group of Eurasian people who after a big European plague that not a lot of people talked about 5,000 years ago kind of migrated into Europe. And a lot of the, you know, DNA shows that their DNA shows up in European DNA, which is really fascinating from a migration standpoint. I’m curious if there’s a point where we’ll be able to track DNA like digital data and what that might mean for civilization going forward.

Jeff Wood (29m 10s):
I, I, this is kind of a big global, not so granular question, but I thought you two were probably the best people to talk about that.

Carlo Ratti (29m 16s):
How’d he do? I do a, to extrapolate on that, on this, you know, first of all, you know, DNA says a lot about us and we are trying to decipher all of it, but certainly there’s going to be monitoring that. And, you know, I personally just had a full, complete genomics scan of myself any, or certainly this type of information is going to be more and more interesting for health, for personalized health moving forward, just, you know, the very, very beginning to, to go from that piece of this is how we are built. There’s so many things we still don’t know. And when we’ll find out, we’ll be able to really change the very meaning of life. But more generally at the social level is you’re saying, I think DNA can tell us many things. We actually work with a national geographic data in the United States in order to try to understand it a different way, ethnic groups in cities, in trying to understand those so many dimensions of cities, they would not be understandable without these types of data.

Carlo Ratti (30m 9s):
So somehow, you know, it’s also has another potential in order to bend it in the same who we are as a society who we are in cities.

Laura Schewel (30m 17s):
I think that migration is not an unusual event. Migration is just a fundamental fact of human civilization and pandemics may accelerate it or push it in one direction or another as major weather events and rulers and Wars, but we will always move. And right now we’re in a moment where the major migratory pole is towards cities. That’s why cities have become so critical, but just as you said, there’s been other major migratory patterns and the course of human history and DNA is it is certainly technically feasible to track and look at DNA as like a huge indicator of the long-term movement of peoples in the terms of the short-term movement of peoples that comes with a whole lot of ethical and privacy questions.

Laura Schewel (31m 3s):
Absolutely. Well, I think it is feasible. You know, we look at mobile phones and connected cars to indicate movement, and we also do track migration, which we would just call it moving in the short term. So I think while it is certainly technically feasible, there might be less privacy, complex ways to do it in the short term. But I think the most important thing is that people are like, Oh, all of a sudden, you know, COVID is causing people to move. That is absolutely true. But also people move anyway and people move all the time and we should consider it the norm, not some like crazy change we have to try to predict or plan for. Yeah.

Jeff Wood (31m 40s):
Well, Laura and Carlo, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate your time.

Listen to the Talking Headways Podcast.


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