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Mapping New Yorkers' global ties by phone, Web

MIT researchers devise a new kind of map for the city of New York to show how its residents are connected to the rest of the world.

You've heard of the New York Stock Exchange. Now there's the New York Talk Exchange.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a new kind of map for the city of New York to show how its residents are connected to the rest of the world. MIT "Senseable City Laboratory"--or a team of researchers focused on charting technology's effects on cities--has taken real-time data from AT&T on the phone and Internet traffic to and from New York to show the communication patterns of residents with other people around the globe. (The study solely reflected traffic and not the content of phone calls or Internet activities, according to MIT.)

Manhattan-ites, for example, are often on the phone to Frankfurt, Tokyo, and London; while residents of Queens are much more likely communicating with people in the Dominican Republic, according to MIT's map.

"The striking piece of evidence coming out of this project is that global talk happens both at the top of the economy and at its lower end. The vast middle layers of our society are far less global; the middle talks mostly nationally and locally," according to Columbia University Professor Saskia Sassen, author of the book "Global Cities," who examined the data.

Graphical interpretations of the data will be on display at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York beginning February 24 through May 12, in an exhibition called "Design and the Elastic Mind." They're also available online at MIT's site.

The project, which is sponsored by AT&T, was led by Carlo Ratti, director of MIT's Senseable City Laboratory and associate professor of the practice of urban technologies. "The aim of the project is to reveal some hidden structure of the city that wasn't possible to see before."

Ratti said that he and his team started the project 18 months ago to explore New York as a global hub of communication. They sought to analyze how New Yorkers' connections with the rest of the world change by neighborhood, throughout the day, and in comparison with London, New York's rival on the global stage.

The team came up with three maps of the data. One is Globe Encounters, a 3D animation of New York's ties to other cities in real time. Pulse of the Planet is a second map depicting how those links change over the course of the day, through different time zones, and truly shows how New York is a 24-hour city. The third map shows the global connections inside of New York's five boroughs.

Toronto is the most popular place for Manhattan residents to call during the day, but it accounts for only 1 percent of outbound calls from the Bronx, according to MIT's findings. In contrast, Mumbai is much lower on the speed-dial list (24th) for people in Manhattan vs. residents of Queens (11th).

The project also showed that New York is a larger global hub than London, based on a wider reach of communications from New York to places like Beijing, Bogot√°, and Riyadh. MIT, which analyzed high-level data from British Telecom, showed that London has much more reach into Europe and the United States.

"The AT&T and BT data comparison hints at an interesting parallel: in an age of globalization, perhaps London's relationship to Europe is analogous to what is conventionally believed to be New York's relationship to the whole of the United States," Ratti said.

He added: "Our visualizations demonstrate that in the Information Age, urban life is as global as it is local."