“…And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!”
         “Have you used it much?” I enquired.
         “It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr: “the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well…”

— Lewis Carroll. The complete Sylvie and Bruno. 1893. San Francisco: Mercury House, c1991. pg. 265

Real Time Rome is the MIT SENSEable City Lab’s contribution to the 2006 Venice Biennale, directed by professor Richard Burdett. The project aggregated data from cell phones (obtained using Telecom Italia's innovative Lochness platform), buses and taxis in Rome to better understand urban dynamics in real time. By revealing the pulse of the city, the project aims to show how technology can help individuals make more informed decisions about their environment. In the long run, will it be possible to reduce the inefficiencies of present day urban systems and open the way to a more sustainable urban future?


MIT Real Time Rome project to debut at Venice Biennale


In today’s world, wireless mobile communications devices are creating new dimensions of interconnectedness between people, places, and urban infrastructure. This ubiquitous connectivity within the urban population can be observed and interpreted in real-time, through aggregate records collected from communication networks. Real-time visualizations expose the dynamics of the contemporary city as urban systems coalesce: traces of information and communication networks, movement patterns of people and transportation systems, spatial and social usage of streets and neighborhoods. Observing the real-time city becomes a means to understanding the present and anticipating the future of urban environments. In the visualizations of Real Time Rome we synthesize data from various real-time networks to understand patterns of daily life in Rome. We interpolate the aggregate mobility of people according to their mobile phone usage and visualize it synchronously with the flux of public transit, pedestrians, and vehicular traffic. By overlaying mobility information on geographic and socio-economic references of Rome we unveil the relationships between fixed and fluid urban elements. These real-time maps help us understand how neighborhoods are used in the course of a day, how the distribution of buses and taxis correlates with densities of people, how goods and services are distributed in the city, or how different social groups, such as tourists and residents, inhabit the city. With the resulting visualizations users can interpret and react to the shifting urban environment. Real Time Rome respects individual privacy and only uses aggregate data already collected by communication service providers; also, it is hoped that the exhibit will stimulate dialogue on access and responsible use of such data.


Real Time Rome fits into a long legacy of depicting the city of Rome through maps. Historical depictions of Rome are superb examples of how maps abstract a single perspective and thus reveal the dominant ideas about the city in its time. A map of the Capitoline Hill, the domain of the goddess Diana, illustrates how a map was once considered a sacred object. Maps allowed people to capture qualities about the city they wouldn’t otherwise understand. As such, maps were endowed with mystical qualities. Giambattista Nolli’s depiction of the city in 1748 is the first iconographic map of Rome (the city was previously drawn from a bird’s eye view). In detailing the city’s streets along with the interiors of public buildings as public space, this map illustrates how much social and public life was valued in late-Renaissance Rome. From another perspective and another time, Edmund Bacon’s (1974) diagrammatic plans of Sixtus V’s urban interventions reveal the logic and significance of landmarks to our understanding of the Eternal City. Today’s interactive maps offered by Google Earth combine detailed aerial and satellite images, sophisticated zooming-panning abilities, and local search functions to create the most powerful maps to date. These maps are also modifiable by users when combined with geotagged, place-related information. Real Time Rome takes those capabilities further to reveal the rhythm of the city as it occurs, in real time.

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Press Materials
The material on this website can be used freely in any publication provided that:

It is duly credited as a project by the MIT Senseable City Lab. PDF copy of the publication is sent to senseable-press@mit.edu

For more information, senseable-contacts@mit.edu


Real Time Rome uses six different visual software to present real-time information about Rome. Snapshots and movies of each of these screens are presented here.

IMAGES (High-res press images)

Rome GIS
Real-Time Rome combines different datasets in a single interface: real-time data, GIS data and raster images. May 2006. Click on the image to enlarge it.
For additional press images, including those captured during the 2006 World Cup and Madonna's concert, click here.

Venice Architecture Biennale
Real Time Rome opens at the Venice Biennale. Sep 2006

Venice Architecture Biennale

Venice Architecture Biennale
Software 2 and Software 3 show mobile phone and public transportation data. Sep 2006

Venice Architecture Biennale
Detail from Software 2. The yellow lines represent buses in real time and the red corresponds to density of people. Sep 2006

Venice Architecture Biennale
Software 4 (on the right) shows visits to monuments and Screen 6 shows Rome during special event. May 2006

Venice Architecture Biennale
Software 1 illustrates the pulse of the city. Sep 2006

Number of cellular phone users in north-eastern Rome at different hours of a day
Number of cellular phone users in north-eastern Rome at different hours of a day. May 2006

The movement dynamics of cellular phone users at different times of a day in neihborhood scale.
The movement dynamics of cellular phone users at different times of a day in neihborhood scale. Area bound by San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in the West, the baths of Diocletian in the North, Piazza dei Cinquecento in the East and Piazza del Viminal in the South. May 2006


Carlo Ratti, Director
Andres Sevtsuk, Curator
Burak Arikan
Assaf Biderman
Francesco Calabrese
Filippo Dal Fiore
Saba Ghole
Daniel Gutierrez
Sonya Huang
Sriram Krishnan
Justin Moe
Francisca Rojas

Najeeb Marc Tarazi


Telecom Italia


Biennale di Venezia
City of Rome
ATAC - Rome Buses
Samarcanda Taxi | Microtek