my Phd thesis abstract

depicting perceived cityscapes
multiple images of the city through User Generated Content


I’m researching as a PhD student at Politecnico di Milano, at the Design Faculty, within Density Design Lab where we  focus on the visual representation of complex social, organizational and urban phenomena. I focus on the analysis of Social Media at the urban scale.

Which kind of urban knowledge can we extract from the contributions that people  spontaneously share every day while living and experiencing the city?
Is it possible to provide a framework for helping citizens, planners and decision makers understand which unsolved urban questions the nature of those data can, even partially, answer?

My research aims at designing, testing and deploying new methods and technologies to make those data worth in different situations. New methods able collect, analyze and represent real-time data as well of qualitative indicators at the urban scale, to determine how people and places are defined and made visible from the digital traces they leave.

The possibility of returning dynamic polyphonic images of the city as it is used and perceived by its denizens seems particularly bright: today contemporary computing systems can track everything in a city, except its rat  (Richard Prouty).
Moreover, millions of people now wander the streets of the world’s cities snapping photographs, sending messages, conducting Internet searches on hand-held devices.These activities can be stamped with precise geo-positioning data, they can be processed, stored, and analysed: as a nover layer of information at hand to interprete our cities. The number of mobile phones subscriptions worldwide has increased dramatically in last years, the number of geo-localizes contributions is increasing in parallel with the smartphones diffusion: more and more people share while moving, while experiencing the city with its public places its public and private commercial services: sharing opinions and emotions without being asked to.

The research is first building a framework able to and organize the actual knowledge we can extract from the content people generate: from a deep research (working with informatics and prototyping experiments;  interviews with social media experts as well in order to understand how to read and interprete such information).
The research is then identifying which are the most meaningful urban questions is it possible to answer through those data, (working and interviewing urban planners, policy makers and private staleholders interested urban phenomena and identifying areas of interest, domains and specific questions; integrating this new knowledge with other sources of information at hand).

A fundamental further part of the research is then the design of visual languages that if applied into dynamic or interactive visualizations can be capable to extract patterns on cities and citizens through the visualization itself. During the first months of my research I’ve been collecting a wide range of case studies that deeply rely on interactive visualizations and visual narratives to extract insights on the city. 
I’m currently working on a visual taxonomy in order to produce a framework able to suggest design strategies for narrative visualization at the urban scale, including promising under-explored approaches (like giving users the possibiiity to visually interact and sketch with data).

At the moment, among the many possible interesting fields we may discover (see related post here) due to the profile of the people that actually use Social Networks, the most promising domains of applications could be summed as follow:

– tourism (temporary inhabitants profile, patterns of mobility, needs and desires);
– planning the cultural offer of the city (which places are named together with ontologies related to culture, emergent local and global net of places related to cultural activities, cultural influencer);
– temporary citizens (emergent ethnic groups: who they are, where they are, how they use the city,)
– the rhythm of the city (time based analysis of  the temporary cities: how does fluxes, areas, concentrations, profiles through time?)
– public health (identifing qualitative indicators able to reveal people perception about specific areas)
– mobility patterns (identifying fluxes and pattern of mobility of certain groups of people within metropolitan and urban areas);

There are some open questions that have to be solved:

*How can this data be validated, in order to verify if they are significant and accurate proxies of common perceptions toward city spaces?
*How can well-being and happiness be defined and observed from user generated content? And what use can we make of ubiquitously connected things and sensor data of various kinds towards the aims of the stakeholders?
* How can be the UGC used in depicting the two most important components of the localized knowledge: the ‘know how’ and the ‘know why’?
* Which knowledge representation structure (e.g. ontology, decision tree, etc) is required to map all the different sources of information and knowledge about the urban domain?
* Is it possible to plot the very many and co-existing perceptions in cities and neighborhoods, relying on UGC-derived knowledge?
* How to integrate such data with other source of information from traditional media, from direct observations and questionnaires, from the municipalities statistical offices?

About giorgia lupi

1981 I am an architect that never built any house (luckily). I work with information, designing, researching and drawing a lot. I am co-founder ad design director at Accurat ( I am a PhD student at Milan Politecnico (

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