THE notion of a “science of cities” seems contradictory. Science is a realm of grand theory and precise measurement, while cities are messy agglomerations of people and human foible. But science is precisely the ambition of New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress. Founded last year, the center has been getting under way in recent weeks, moving into new office space and firing off its first project proposal to the National Science Foundation.
The center’s director is Steven E. Koonin, a Brooklyn native and graduate of Stuyvesant High School, who came to N.Y.U. after a stint in the Obama administration as the under secretary for science in the Department of Energy. He is both a theoretical physicist and science policy expert. The center shouldn’t lack for intellectual rigor.
The initiative at N.Y.U. is part of a broader trend: the global drive to apply modern sensor, computing and data-sifting technologies to urban environments, in what has become known as “smart city” technology. The goals are big gains in efficiency and quality of life by using digital technology to better manage traffic and curb the consumption of water and electricity, for example. By some estimates, water and electricity use can be cut by 30 to 50 percent over the course of a decade
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