Mapping the Unmapped: Using Cell Phones and Social Media to Understand the City


Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture + Planning

Publication date: 

Friday, 2 May 2014


  • Article


External to ACUI

Project theme: 

A data mapping study in Nairobi highlights the use of cellphones and social media for better understanding urban and economic dynamics by mapping the informal transit system of Nairobi, revealing unanticipated structure in the apparent chaos. Students from the University of Nairobi used their cell phones to gather data along 130 routes of the informal transit system consisting of buses called matatus that are licensed by the city but run by hundreds of private companies on routes that are vaguely based on a network from 30 years ago. Maps of the actual system have never been developed so residents find it hard to know how best to navigate the city, and, more importantly urban planners are limited in their ability to manage the system and model traffic flows.