A man walks with his two kids during San Francisco Bike and Roll to School Day 2018. Photo by San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

The Urban Environment and Social Inclusion Index (UESI), which measures cities’ environmental performance at the neighborhood scale, will soon grow from 30 to more than 160 cities. Two upcoming events will preview these additions to the Index. Data-Driven Lab Research Associates Diego Manya and Ryan Thomas will speak at the ICLEI Resilient Cities Forum in Bonn, Germany, on June 26. Data-Driven Lab Director Dr. Angel Hsu will present at the Global Situation Space and speak on several panels during the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China on July 1-3. 

The UESI measures how residents living in the same city experience the urban environments in vastly different ways. Launched in December 2018, in collaboration with the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, the UESI leverages a combination of satellite and census data to reveal how cities perform on indicators including air pollution, sustainable public transport, tree cover, and urban heat. By tracking neighborhood-by-neighborhood performance on these issues, it reveals how evenly or unevenly environmental amenities — like public transit access — and burdens — such as air pollution — are distributed across neighborhoods with different populations and income levels. The environmental quality of life of someone living in the Bronx, for instance, may be markedly different from the experience of someone living in downtown Manhattan.

The Index’s expansion focuses on filling gaps in regional coverage, particularly in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, where urban environmental data is vital. Ninety percent of the 2.5 billion people that will join the world’s urban population by 2050 will live in these regions, and urban development will shape their quality of life.

The updates also add more small and mid-sized cities to the Index. In the United States, for instance, it will soon include Fargo, North Dakota (population 124,844) and Bridgeport, Connecticut (with just under 145,000 people) alongside the larger cities of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, which each hold millions. Roughly half of the world’s urban population lives in communities with less than half a million people — cities that often face a different set of challenges and tools than larger metropolises.

To incorporate these cities, the Data-Driven Lab team conducted intensive desk research to track down detailed information on neighborhood populations, income levels, and administrative boundaries. This data was combined with large-scale data — ranging from remote-sensing data tracking tree cover to crowdsourced information on bus and metro stops — to create a dataset that is both comprehensive and detailed. These emerging, global data sources can track data that might be expensive or time-consuming to collect at the local level, making it possible to benchmark performance and identify innovative strategies for fostering equitable, inclusive cities.  

A screenshot of the UESI portal, comparing levels of tree cover and urban heat across different neighborhoods in Quito, Ecuador.

The interactive UESI portal, which enables visitors to explore the Index’s data, now includes the new cities. The Index’s key findings — which trace the big-picture trends that emerge across all cities — will also be updated soon, to reflect the new and larger sample size. The team’s upcoming presentations will share preliminary findings and trends from this larger dataset, and gather audience feedback to guide the next phase of the Index and portal’s development.

“These events convene a rare cross-section of urban policymakers, city residents, and researchers — many of the stakeholders we hope the UESl will be most useful to,” said Dr. Hsu. “These opportunities to share our research and engage directly with these audiences will help guide the next phase of the Index’s development.”