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Data diving

Which London Underground lines have the cleanest air? What do we know about the night-time economy of Westminster? How can joggers choose which London park to run in to avoid current air pollution?

These are the city-centred challenges that have been tackled over the past three years at annual student hackathons hosted by the Centre for Urban Science and Progress London (CUSP London).

Hackathons bring together computer programmers, software developers and designers, and subject matter experts in an intensive collaboration, usually lasting just a few days or a week, with the goal of creating usable, innovative software.

Each of the CUSP London hackathons have involved some 40 to 50 people – experts from King’s College London and the Greater London Authority, students from New York University and the University of Warwick, and a wide range of London-based governmental and commercial organisations. The aim has been to explore the data available on the given topic, and come up with analyses that will develop our understanding of – and help deliver practical solutions to – challenges that affect Londoners’ everyday lives.

Outputs have included an app to guide joggers on the best parks to exercise in to avoid the worst levels of air pollution, an analysis of where those coming to Westminster in the evenings were coming from, and an examination of air pollution on different London Underground lines.

While these outputs were simple prototypes, they give helpful indications to governmental bodies and researchers as to what further analyses could be done, for what questions data exists to support robust analysis, and in what form the output of such analyses could be presented and accessed by the public.

The hackathons are an engaging and challenging way of connecting King’s with the capital. By bringing together the brightest and best students and researchers from CUSP partner institutions with London-based subject matter experts, the hackathons also help develop our students’ skills in thinking about how data science can solve realworld problems.

CUSP London enables researchers, businesses, local authorities and government agencies to apply urban science to improving public health and wellbeing. A partnership between King’s, the University of Warwick and New York University, the Centre is based at Bush House, part of King’s Strand Campus.

London is the first city to build on the success of CUSP in New York City – now established as a leader in the field of urban science and informatics. In establishing CUSP London, King’s is at the forefront of an approach that draws on the real experience and big data available in cities, using London as a living laboratory to tackle the needs of our capital and some of the complex challenges it faces.

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