As cities scramble to house a rapidly growing population, urban planners will need to harness big data and new technologies to design for the future.

UNSW’s new Master of City Analytics will teach urban planners, engineers and built environment experts how to interpret big data to understand and predict the issues affecting our overcrowded cities, from transport congestion to air pollution and population migration.

“By 2020 there will be 50 billion devices connected to the internet using around 44 zetabytes of data,” said UNSW’s inaugural Professor of Urban Science Chris Pettit, who is leading the degree.

“Much of this data can be harnessed to plan our cities better. With the global population predicted to reach 8.5 billion people by 2030 and 60% of those people forecast to live in cities, urban planners who can rapidly interpret this sort of digital information are already in high demand.”

Offered by UNSW Built Environment, the degree will equip students with the skills to analyse big data and open data (data that is accessible and available at no cost), as well as develop a comprehensive understanding of geodesign, geocomputation, scientific programming, modelling and simulation, visualisation and virtual reality.

UNSW’s partnership with King’s College London (KCL) and Arizona State University (ASU) in the PLuS Alliance will provide opportunities for students to work with international data sets collated as part of a research project led by Professor Pettit and a team of PluS Alliance researchers. The researchers are currently analysing big data to understand how people commute in London, Phoenix and Sydney and how this can inform the design of more accessible and sustainable cities.

Professor Pettit said each of the PLuS Alliance universities has experts in relevant, complementary areas: KCL leads in air quality monitoring, ASU is skilled in advanced geographic modelling while UNSW excels in housing dynamics.

The long-term vision is to offer online courses on city analytics across all three universities in the future.

Educational excellence is a key part of UNSW’s 2025 Strategy, which aims to offer students a personalised and flexible learning experience by blending the highest level face-to-face teaching with digital education.

“This course will play an integral role in growing the skill set and culture of data-driven evidence-based policy and decision making across our cities, both in Australia and internationally,” said Professor Pettit.

Students will also have the opportunity to contribute to UNSW City Futures Research Centre’s existing data which is stored on the Centre’s interactive City Viz and City Dashboard.

The first intake for the Master of City Analytics will be in Semester One, 2018.