Talking about inequality with Esteban Moro

Joan Llop and Sefora Garcia

d&a blog

On April 10 we had the opportunity to learn about The Atlas of Inequality project, which has been developed by the Human Dynamics group of the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with the Mathematics Department from the Universidad Carlos III, based in Madrid (UC3M). One of the main researchers of this project is Esteban Moro, associate lecturer at UC3M and visiting professor at MIT, who spoke to us about the scope of the study, the data used and how the work has been developed. In addition, attendees to the presentation, which took place in the Open Space BBVA, could witness the potential of the work developed so far, which is likely to be used for future analysis on inequality.

The project focuses on the study of inequality and segregation in the metropolitan area of Boston, United States. Perhaps the most relevant aspect of this study is that it does not only address an analysis of socio-economic variables of city areas, but it also provides an innovative point of view: by focusing on analyzing the places in which citizens spend their time during the day with geolocated data and unlike it has traditionally been done, it is based on the census data, which is much more stationary.

This approach shows that the inequality that each one of us experiences does not depend so much on where we live, but on where we spend our time. Thus, there are spaces and places within a city that are very segregated as opposed to others that are more balanced, and a change in our routine, such as changing our workplace, can have a significant impact on the inequality we experience. In short, it is about analyzing the inequality experienced by each citizen instead of drawing large areas of a city, unequal to each other, which in many cases does not adequately reflect the reality of the population.

In order to carry out this study, Esteban Moro and his team have worked with the Cuebiq platform, which provides access to the location data of its users, with the aim of mapping the daily movements of thousands of people, as long as they are used for research projects or humanitarian initiatives and being presented anonymously. This location data is linked to the location data of the places registered in the Foursquare app, thus obtaining the time that users spend in each of these places, which can be from restaurants or museums to parks, bridges or squares. Likewise, users are divided into four groups according to the level of income, so that we can finally obtain the composition of each place regarding the time that users spend there.

Some conclusions from the study indicate that, in general terms, 75% of the segregation we experience depends on what we do and where we spend our time, while only a quarter depends on where we live. The project also allows us to better know the typology of places that have greater segregation compared to those that are much more balanced due to the kind of people that visit those areas. As a matter of example, these last places could refer to stadiums during sporting events or public and cultural buildings, such as museums. In addition, this very granular information on segregation has great potential to be used by public entities, which can carry out actions to mitigate these inequalities.