Understanding urban mobility during the pandemic

Thursday 27 May 2021
15:00 – 16:30 (BST)
Online (via Zoom)

Part of the Urban Studies Spring Seminar Series 2021.

The pandemic has brought an unparalleled focus on mobility in urban areas. Initially the interest was in compliance with social distancing measures, then later in understanding transmission risks for the virus and guiding policies on easing restrictions. Looking ahead, the interest is shifting again to using mobility to provide rapid feedback on how cities are recovering – which areas and which activities bounce back, and which do not. Longer term, a better understanding of mobility will be key to achieving more sustainable urban forms.

Capturing mobility using conventional research methods is challenging. Big data from sensors and apps offers great potential but also many challenges. There are technical challenges in managing and analysing the volumes of data involved. At least as important, however, are the socio-legal challenges of securing access to data and the privacy issues raised by high precision locational information. And there are important ethical issues about the representativeness of different sources – whose activities, demands or perspectives are captured or amplified, and whose are omitted or marginalized. A number of private firms have provided public access to data and analyses, with Google and Apple offering near-global coverage for example, but we are unable to scrutinise or validate their methods and there is no guarantee of continuity. Valuable as these sources may be in the short term, they are not a substitute for a more public data infrastructure.

This seminar therefore looks at a number of alternative approaches which have been employed over the last year to capture different aspects of mobility using big data. It reports on several strands of work conducted by the Urban Big Data Centre (UBDC) as well as work in the US using large-scale access to mobile phone data.


  • Introduction (5 mins)
  • New forms of data for urban mobility (30 mins)
    • Presentations from UBDC colleagues on a range of areas of work to capture urban mobility using new forms of data
  • Professor Meipo Kwan: Spatiotemporal Big Data Analysis for Human Mobility Research during the COVID-19 Pandemic (30 mins)
    • Professor Kwan is the Choh-Ming Li Professor of Geography and Resource Management and Director of the Institute of Space and Earth Information Science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
  • Discussion (25 mins)


Registration for this online event is free and available via Eventbrite. Full details and instructions for joining will be circulated post-registration.