School of Architecture | The University of Texas at Austin

Housed in the UT School of Architecture’s Community and Regional Planning department, the Urban Information Lab (UIL) focuses on understanding the built environment through spatial analysis and big data in order to provide solutions for better living. The lab was founded in 2014 by Dr. Junfeng Jiao to provide a space for deep-dive investigations of urban form by harnessing innovative technologies. Codirected by Dr. Jiao and Dr. Robert Paterson, the lab employs a team of five graduate students who explore how urban design influences human behavior. Since the lab’s inception, UIL researchers have analyzed big data to assist in bicycle infrastructure planning, engaged in physical planning and development in South Shore area of Austin, investigated tourist perceptions of the city in cyberspace through geo-referenced Tweets, evaluated people’s access to healthy and unhealthy food sources in Austin, and identified transit deserts in four Texas cities, among other projects.

The UIL integrates emerging technologies, methods, and data sources in its analysis of the built environment in order to uncover new perspectives on planning. While GIS is a key visualization tool for many planners and urban designers, the lab concentrates on developing new techniques for multi-criteria decision analysis and data mining, especially where it pertains to distribution of nutrition and transportation resources. In addition to using information from the public sources, the lab performs scenario planning with Envision Tomorrow Plus, collects GPS data, analyzes geo-referenced social media postings, and deploys web scraping technology to collect spatial information for use in novel explorations of cityscapes and social forms.  The UIL portrays information using a variety of design techniques, including physical and digital 3D modeling.  

The UIL benefits from the work of students, who implement new techniques and methods for planning analysis in classes, studios, and through funded research projects. Each fall, a physical planning studio engages graduate students in an in-depth analysis of a real-world location for urban redevelopment. This studio trains future planners to think broadly and investigate topics deeply, while providing the opportunity to apply new UIL methods to old urban design problems. 2014’s physical planning studio studied the economic and environmental redevelopment of the South Shore area of Austin’s Ladybird Lake. In 2015, students will travel to Beijing to partner with Chinese students to develop redevelopment scenarios for the Pan Jia Yuan Antique Market. In addition to planning studios, all students within the Community and Regional Planning program take GIS and Visual Communication, which provides another outlet for hands-on learning.

Dr. Junfeng Jiao: jjiao@utexas.edu
Dr. Robert Paterson: rgfp@austin.utexas.edu
Greg P Griffin: gregpgriffin@utexas.edu
Susan Sharp: susansharp@utexas.edu