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big data Value and Cities:   The PULSE Project

PULSE (Participatory Urban Living for Sustainable Environments)™  is a new international project funded by the European Commission (Horizon 2020) to undertake research and innovation in cities in Europe, the United States and Asia.  The project began at the close 2016 and will continue for three years. 

The PULSE Project will engage in a collaborative dialogue with a range of stakeholders across five global cities  -  Paris, Barcelona, Birmingham, New York and Singapore  -  to transform public health from a reactive to a predictive system, focused on both risk and resilience. 

The PULSE project will combine a unique Big Data ecosystem with innovative approaches to Big Data analytics. The Project will be the first to build an integrated systems-of-systems approach to public health challenges in cities.


The Pulse of the Smart City

The Pulse of the Smart City

Smart Cities and Communities at the Global Scale

The five cities with which we are collaborating  –  Paris, Barcelona, Birmingham, New York and Singapore –  can be defined as “Smart Cities”. 

"Smart Cities and Communities” embrace integrated IT infrastructure and solutions, and citizen services, across city sectors, including health. 

To accomplish the transformation of public health systems, and stimulate the development of intersectoral policy in cities, the PULSE Project will leverage large amounts of data from city governments, health systems, and citizens (via sensing technologies and social media). 

Cities are entering a fourth stage of modern transformational change, shaped by technological innovation ... Technologies influence patterns of behavior. Digital and mobile technologies are making the connections between service providers and users tighter, faster, more personal, and more comprehensive
— The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology 2016

Five Global Cities



Five Global Cities



our urbanized world 

We have chosen to work directly with cities in response to the EU Urban Agenda, the White House Smart Cities Initiative and the Singapore government's Smart Nation plan. 

The PULSE Project will act as a bridge between the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Smart Cities and Communities, and the WHO Healthy Cities initiative (Phase VI). 

The EIP on Smart Cities and Communities emphasizes the need for better planning, and a more participatory approach, in cities – an approach underscored by the Paris Declaration (2014) on EU integration of transport, health and the environment, and the Barcelona Declaration (2015) on integrated solutions to tackle air pollution and noise in EU cities. The goals of the WHO Healthy Cities initiative (Phase VI, 2014-2018) resonate with these priorities: targeting improved leadership and participatory governance for health; strengthened people-centered systems and public health capacity; and more resilient communities and supportive environments in cities. 


The global cities involved in the PULSE Project are members of several networks, e.g. EUROCITIES, C40Cities and 100 Resilient Cities. We will be leveraging these networks within the PULSE Project. 


PULSE: Concept and Approach

PULSE: Concept and Approach

The PULSE project is based on Three main premises

1.  The traditional model of public health is no longer fit-for-purpose in 21st century cities

2. New social and environmental crises necessitate better models of planning and service delivery

3. Big data (and open data), and data science, are fundamental to reframing traditional models of public health are key to creating new approaches and pathways to prevention, and the mitigation and management of health issues and problems

The overall goal of the PULSE Project is to build extensible models and technologies to predict, mitigate and manage public health problems and promote community health in cities. 

Our emphasis is on environmental and behavioral risk of disease onset in urban environments.

In terms of public health risk, we will focus on the link between air pollution and the respiratory disease of Asthma, and between physical inactivity and the metabolic disease of Type 2 Diabetes (T2D). 

 In terms of public health resilience, we will focus on wellbeing in communities. 


PULSE Actions

PULSE Actions

PULSE actions

The PULSE Project will:

  • model the air quality/climate change relationship within two global cities (New York and Paris) and build comparative analyses across these cities
  • implement a novel environmental/health surveillance system on air quality within specific neighborhoods and model risk of exposure to polluted air for citizens, especially those with Asthma and T2D
  • develop novel insights on the relationship between risk for the onset of T2D and genetic, epigenetic, environmental and behavioral factors
  • collect comprehensive data on individual and community wellbeing and resilience
  • model public health risk and resilience and develop persuasive tools and technologies to intervene and change behavior
  • translate Big Data to Policy (BD2P) with the municipal leaders of five global cities
  • establish Communities of Practice, and a Learning Platform, relating to the use of data, models, visualizations and simulations to drive inclusive and equitable urban design and planning
  • establish a series of linked, interoperable Public Health Observatories (with WebGIS) across cities in Europe, the US and Asia

Risk and the City

Risk and the City

addressing risks to secure resilience

Global cities faces numerous risks , ranging from climate change to terrorism. All these risks impact the public sphere, and have a potential adverse effect on population health.

 In the PULSE Project, we will adopt a four-level model of risk embracing

  • the environmental level
  • the social level
  • the community level
  • the individual level.

Within PULSE, health risk is understood to be a combination of environmental and social exposures (e.g. air pollution, poverty) and human behavior (e.g. sedentary lifestyle). 

The PULSE Project will leverage aspects of the urbanization process to redirect human behavior (toward greater physical activity, and more sustainable transport choices, and away from risk-laden behavior and polluted urban areas), and also raise awareness, improve population health and reduce health inequities.

The unique approach of PULSE lies in a joined up approach to understanding risk factors combined with a joined up approach to policy making. 

Climate change is a systemic challenge. It interacts strongly with socio-economic factors and their regional and global trends...Well-adapted and climate-resiient cities therefore matter for a climate-resilient Europe
— European Environment Agency 2016
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Our Polluted Air

Our Polluted Air

the urban crisis of unhealthy air

Air quality is a major issue for urban populations, economies and environments. 

Around 90 % of city dwellers in the EU are exposed to pollutant concentration levels above the limit and target values set in EU legislation and WHO Air Quality Guidelines.  Air pollution has also become one of the top environmental concerns in South East Asia and India.

Individual EU cities continue to experience serious problems with air pollution. In Paris, over 11 million inhabitants in Ile-de-France were exposed to levels of fine particles (PM 2.5) that exceeded WHO guidelines in 2015. Roadside exposure was up to three times higher than acceptable limits. The Paris Action Plan for Air Quality was released by Mayor Hildago in March, 2015.

Air Pollution, Climate Change and Respiratory Diseases

Climate change currently impacts many physical and biological systems, including the immunological and respiratory systems critical to human health. 

Climate change will continue to directly aggravate respiratory disease, and/or increase exposure to respiratory disease risk factors. Climate change has been defined as a 'massive threat' to respiratory health in the EU.

There is an urgent need to deploy a real-time emissions measurement system, combined with human health data, in urban environments. The PULSE Project will take up this challenge by deploying an extensible environmental measuring and monitoring system in five global cities. We will also provide customized mobility guidance for citizens, advocacy groups, businesses, and  city administrations.  

Air Pollution Deaths Cost the Global Economy US$225 Billion ... In 2013, the aggregate cost of premature deaths was more than US$5 trillion worldwide. In East and South Asia, welfare losses related to air pollution were the equivalent of about 7.5 percent of GDP.
— The World Bank 2016

Our Urban Health Disadvantage

Our Urban Health Disadvantage

epidemics of chronic disease

Cities are burdened by high levels of non-communicable diseases. The increasing incidence, earlier onset, and aging populations in cities, create a multiplier effect.

Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) has been called the 'plague of the 21st century'.  T2D has also been described as the 'hidden enemy' as symptoms of the disease may not be apparent for some time.

Factors driving the increased incidence of T2D include urbanization, sedentary lifestyle and obesity.

There is an urgent need to optimize the impact of lifestyle changes within a data-driven individualized approach to the prevention and management of T2D. The PULSE Project takes up this challenge via the development of clinician-facing, patient- and citizen-facing tools and technologies based on advanced clinical analytics.

We’ll work to raise awareness among leaders and policy makers at the local level about the real gains that can be achieved when effective programs are in place. This includes efforts to strengthen health systems’ response to manage NCDs and injuries, and to improve availability of health data to inform policy and programs
— Michael Bloomberg, WHO Global Ambassador for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) 2016

Urban Wellbeing and Resilience

Urban Wellbeing and Resilience

measuring individual and community wellbeing in cities

Within the PULSE Project, we will develop new tools and technologies to measure wellbeing in cities. The goal is to build  understandings of the relationship between community health resilience (CHR), and resilience at the individual scale.  We will use data from numerous sources to generate community and individual matrices of risk and resilience. 

Defining a new field of urban health resilience

We will rely on the following to define this field: 

  • research in the field of exposomics aimed at modeling the impact of climate conditions and air quality on human health
  • research in the field of computational behavioral science and computational public health
  • temporal-spatial analyses and geo-localized data
  • the technological capabilities of the Internet of Things (IoT), including remote sensing and mobile sensing technologies

The PULSE Project will bring city resilience into alignment with urban health resilience


Precision Public Health

Precision Public Health

precision medicine principles and The pulse project

PULSE will be the first research and innovation  project to infuse Smart City models with insights from Precision Medicine

Citizen-Generated, Contextualized Big Data

Consistent with the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) launched by the NIH, the PULSE Project will use clinical informatics and multiscale models, and mobile and wireless sensor technologies, to assess the physiological, behavioral and environmental parameters of health in the urban context. 

These insights will enable personalized, predictive and responsive just-in-time interventions to be designed and delivered to citizens and communities. 

Participants in the PULSE Project will have access to their data, and be eligible to receive decision support regarding health-improving behaviors.  Our participants will be research and innovation partners in the PULSE Project.

The acquisition of heterogeneous data from numerous sources, and the development of customized preventive interventions, will define a new model and set of practices for Precision Public Health. 

I’m most passionate about something I’ve worked on for a long time, which people call precision medicine...Today, I’m interested in something I call precision public health. Can we bring that same innovation, that speed, that ability to use big data to the problem we’re trying to solve?
— Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO Gates Foundation 2015

PULSE Citizen Science

PULSE Citizen Science

PRomoting a sharing knowledge economy for cities 

Within the PULSE Project, we will pioneer the use of wide-ranging and immersive citizen and community engagement  in our five global cities

Specifically, we will invite citizens and communities to work directly with us on the following: 

  • Collaborative resource planning for resilience against climate change and social disruption
  • Collaborative action for social and community justice and compassion
  • Collaborative neighborhood infrastructure surveillance and planning
  • Collaborative data collection for environmental health
  • Collaborative neighborhood and city needs assessment
  • Collaborative data collection to support environmental sustainability in neighborhoods
  • Collaborative data collection to map the distribution of economic and social services in neighborhoods

Visualizing neighborhoods and cities - documenting and analyzing places that inspire positive and negative feelings via a dedicated citizen platform, and the use of social media

Within the PULSE project, we will create a digital platform for citizen and community engagement.  We will utilize specific social media channels to engage, inspire and assist citizens of all ages and backgrounds to share experiences and views: 

  • Documenting relationships with place, space, people and pets
  • Documenting local strategies and initiatives to transform social connectedness
  • Documenting local solutions to gaps in service provision
  • Documenting the presence of wildlife in neighborhoods and cities
  • Documenting community practices that lead to improved heath and wellbeing

Inviting citizens and communities to use PULSE datasets to create unique opportunies for social, economic and environmental improvements in their neighborhoods

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Pulse Public Health Observatories

Pulse Public Health Observatories

Big Data and PUblic Health

The PULSE Project will develop Public Health Observatories within five global cities  to integrate, in an open format, environmental sensing data, community health and transport data, and to deliver visualizations, dashboards, analytical tools and reports to inform, and support, resilient and sustainable cities.

Further, the PULSE Project will deliver an ecosystem of Public Health Observatories across these urban sites to support intra- and inter-city dialogue, sharing and learning based on real-time data, big data and predictive analytics in the context of urban sustainability and health resilience.

The PULSE Communities of Practice, and Learning Platform, will  integrate with the linked Public Health Observatories. 

The PULSE Web Geographical Information System (PULSE WebGIS)

The PULSE project will acquire and generate very large datasets characterized by diversity and complexity e.g. the 2D/3D maps of the urban test beds, the orthophotos, the satellite optical, multispectral, and hyperspectral images, the environmental quality maps, data from apps, smart devices and augmented objects. These datasets will be characterized by their velocity (as several of the above listed items will quickly change over time) and their variety (different structures and formats). 

In order to carry out effective data analysis and knowledge extraction, datasets must be well organized and made interoperable.

Furthermore, in order to involve citizens and stakeholders, data and results of analysis must be easily accessible.

In the PULSE Project, we  will develop a Web Geographical Information System (PULSE WebGIS). 

The PULSE WebGIS will store data and models, and allow citizens and stakeholders to query and visualize these data and models.

The PULSE WebGIS, will be a core element of the PULSE Public Health Observatories.  



Pulse Business and Innovation Councils

Pulse Business and Innovation Councils

Global Opportunities:  exploiting the big data value chain

PULSE Business Council

The PULSE Project will convene a Business Council to support the exploitation strategy and the design of business models. The Business Council will involve several industry leaders (up to 10 companies), active in different sectors and markets. Industries to be represented will include IT/digital technologies, healthcare, transport, telecommunications, medtech, sports and fitness companies.

Once the products and services are defined, and the commercialization partners are identified, the PULSE project will launch a commercial roadshow across the ECHAlliance (European Connected Health Alliance) international network of Ecosystems involving 25+ regions and countries.

PULSE Innovation Council

During the PULSE Project, we will benefit from the advice and guidance of our industry-led Innovation Council. 

PULSE will demonstrate the value of Big Data for government, citizens, businesses and communities within the context of an open data framework.

PULSE will be the first project to harness the economic and societal benefit of the Big Data associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) in combination with context-aware human health data. By integrating the data from both devices and people, PULSE will create a convergence between the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Internet of Citizens (IoC).

Deploying a robust, multiperspectival geospatial analytics system will define a new paradigm for smart, healthy cities. The PULSE model of Big Data for Healthy Cities will become the precedent for future urban policy, and governance, and citizen engagement.
— Suzanne Holt Ballard, Future Cities Lab

Pulse Events

Pulse Events

Workshops and ConferenceS:  Paris; Barelona; Shanghai; New York

We will communicate the results of PULSE activities at the global scale via networks and organizations e.g.

  • European Connected Health Alliance
  • Chinese Connected Health Alliance
  • International Society for Urban Health

 We will share insights via specific events organized by the PULSE Project including

  • a  Big Data for Health (BD4H) conference in Paris
  • an event on Big Data to Policy (BD2P) at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona
  • a Big Data for Health (BD4H) workshop in Shanghai
  • a Big Data for Cities (BD4C) conference in New York