Urban phenology: Toward a real-time census of the city using Wi-Fi data

Constantine E. Kontokosta, Nicholas Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


New streams of data are being generated by a range of in-situ instrumentation, mobile sensing, and social media that can be integrated and analyzed to better understand urban activity and mobility patterns. While several studies have focused on understanding flows of people throughout a city, these data can also be used to create a more spatially and temporally granular picture of local population, and to forecast localized population given some exogenous environmental or physical conditions. Effectively modeling population dynamics at high spatial and temporal resolutions would have significant implications for city operations and policy, strategic long-term planning processes, emergency response and management, and public health. This paper develops a real-time census of the city using Wi-Fi data to explore urban phenology as a function of localized population dynamics. Using Wi-Fi probe and connection data accounting for more than 20,000,000 data points for the year 2015 from New York City's Lower Manhattan neighborhood – combined with correlative data from the U.S. Census America Community Survey, the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics survey, and New York City administrative records – we present a model to create real-time population estimates classified by residents, workers, and visitors/tourists in a given neighborhood and localized to a block or geolocation proximate to a Wi-Fi access point. The results indicate that the approach has merit: we estimate intra-day, hourly worker and resident population counts within 5% of survey validation data. Our building-level test case demonstrates similar accuracy, estimating worker population to within 1% of the reported building occupancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-153
Number of pages10
JournalComputers, Environment and Urban Systems
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


  • Census
  • Community
  • Human dynamics
  • Population
  • Urban studies
  • Wi-Fi

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecological Modeling
  • General Environmental Science
  • Urban Studies


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