Urban Informatics Lab

The UIL has been conceptualised as a space within IIHS to share insights into our cities arising from various information systems, such as primary data collection and surveys, secondary data analysis, and geospatial visualisation, as well as facilitate in depth  discussion. The UIL acts as a catalyst for methodological innovation in generating new data, exploiting existing data in novel ways, and bringing together specialised approaches of urban research and practice. Another critical objective of the UIL is to consolidate and amplify the various multiple disciplinary as well as methodological perspectives that co-exist at IIHS through the analysis and visualisation of quantitative, qualitative, and geo-spatial data and information.


Access to high quality, relevant data is essential for urban researchers and practitioners within and outside IIHS to effectively transform the environments in which they work. Currently, while there is a proliferation of data and information provided by different organisations about various aspects of the Indian socio-economic environment, it is hard to find a comprehensive source for data or an authoritative voice about its applicability for Indian cities. IIHS is well placed to serve this function, being embedded within communities of urban research and practice in India. The long-term aim of the Urban Informatics Lab (UIL) is to facilitate access to and consumption of data by creating a space for researchers of Indian urbanisation to share data and conceptualise alternative or improved forms of data creation, usage and dissemination.


The Urban Informatics Laboratory (UIL) is a space within the Indian Institute for Human Settlements where collation, organisation and dissemination of information related to India’s urbanisation takes place. The laboratory’s mandate is threefold: to build repositories of quantitative, qualitative and spatial data that tackle questions related to the urban space in India; to design and develop means of dissemination using various media that highlight key trends in India’s urbanisation story; and, to analyse and study the developments in the urban space in India, and create a space where such studies can be showcased.



Secondary Data Archive
The UIL Data Repository is a collection of data that has been sourced from various Indian public sources like the Census of India, the National Sample Survey, Ministry of Commerce, and the Annual Survey of Industries, and created by researchers at IIHS, and made available to researchers within IIHS and from associated institutions. All data has been converted to commonly used data formats and indexed into the IIHS Library indexing methodology.


Point Location Database:
Over the past few years, the UIL has created a dataset that maps all the inhabited settlements (urban and rural) in India. This allows us to visualise demographic and socio-economic data about settlements at various levels of geographical aggregation. Visualisations using this database have been used in various IIHS research and practice projects, including work on the selection of a new capital for Andhra Pradesh, identifying locations of high-intensity economic agglomeration in Odisha, and, understanding the true extent of urbanisation in India. This unique dataset has been developed using settlement listings from the Census of India, and at this juncture, has not been attempted by any organisation at the national scale.


Ward Level Database:
For the first time in its history, the Census of India in 2014 publicly released data related to housing and access to amenities at the ward level for all Indian cities. Therefore, in addition to the national, state, district and settlement-level data as part of the Urban Data Repository, UIL also now has an archive of demographic and housing data at the sub-city scale. Analyses using this database have resulted in two research papers in the EPW Review of Urban Affairs special issue in April 2015.


The UIL is also in the process of acquiring ward level maps for cities across the country in order to conduct spatial analysis of this data.


Most data and analysis on urbanisation is available at the national, state and district levels. Till date, limited data has been available at the sub-city scale, either to study wards or census enumeration blocks or political constituencies. A lot of variability is also at the sub-city scale and is often not well known or articulated because of the absence of granular data on access to services, vulnerability, and risk. Recently, this has started to shift, with more datasets becoming available at a sub-city scale. This, coupled with advancements in geospatial technology and the availability of satellite data, allows us to gain a closer understanding and study aspects of urban and peri-urban transitions that were previously not feasible.


Research at the UIL aimed at addressing this gap in understanding sub-city dynamics in across India’s cities. The UIL has been providing assistance to a number of institutional projects over the past couple of years while building its own research portfolio.


How Urban is India? – Reframing Urban Inclusion

How does the choice of metrics affect the understanding of “urban India?” How is the ‘urban’ defined and calculated? How has its definition changed over time and in turn, transform particular places? This case features a data visualisation tool that allows learners to analyse the spatial impacts of social, economic, and policy parameters that define a city over time.


Hungry Cities Partnership: Informality, Inclusive Growth and Food Security in Cities of the Global South
Link to the HCP text on the IIHS Research page


The Hungry Cities Partnership is a five-year study on urban food systems, food security and informal employment across seven countries in the Global South. The research objectives include the following:

(a) to generate a significant body of comparative, interdisciplinary knowledge on the organisation, structure and potential for inclusive growth in the formal and informal food economy and implications for food security in cities of the Global South; (b) to examine the implications of formal and informal competition for entrepreneurship, innovation, job creation and inclusive growth in the urban food economy, with particular reference to women and youth; (c) to assess national, regional and municipal policies that enable or constrain enterprise development, entrepreneurship and innovation in the informal economy. The UIL is anchoring the Bengaluru research and has conducted a city level survey on food consumption patterns and urban food security.


Development of Survey Applications
The UIL has developed survey tools for institutional projects at IIHS using OpenDataKit for easy survey administration and data collation. The UIL has worked with the CARIAA and WHO teams within IIHS on their surveys.


Practice projects
The UIL has provided data analysis and research inputs for a number of live projects and practice based work within IIHS and other domestic institutions and multilateral organisations.


  • Andhra Pradesh Capital Committee project
    The UIL and the GIS Lab provided technical support to the Sivaramakrishnan Committee for recommending the location of a capital for the newly formed state of Andhra Pradesh. The team created a narrative of regional economic development for the state of Andhra Pradesh using geo-spatial analysis of infrastructure systems, demographic analysis, economic analysis of output, employment, and investment, and an assessment of climate-related risks.


  • Identifying Locations of High-Intensity Economic Agglomeration in Odisha – World Bank
    This project was carried out for the World Bank, that was requested by the state government of Orissa to identify locations of high intensity economic agglomerations in the state. The project consists of a set of quantitative and geospatial analyses of urban expansion, economic activity, investment and employment patterns within the state using multiple data sources


  • Tamil Nadu Urban Livelihoods Mission
    The UIL analysed results from a survey conducted by the Commissionerate of Municipal Administration, Government of Tamil Nadu, to assess the situation of homelessness in Madurai Corporation in preparation for the forthcoming launch of the Tamil Nadu Urban Livelihoods Mission.  The UIL prepared a report based on their survey data, which involved analytical and data visualisation work.


  • Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan
    The UIL team worked on creating visualisations on settlement structure, demographic characteristics and access to amenities at the village level for four districts – Pali, Rajsamund, Ajmer and Bhilwara in Rajasthan. It used the PCA 2001 and 2011 and point locations from the UIL Data Repository.



Urban India 2015: Evidence
Lead Authors: Arindam Jana, Teja Malladi | Editor: Aromar Revi | August 2015

The second edition of IIHS’ urban atlas series is titled Urban India 2015: Evidence. The themed urban atlas covers a set of sectors: socio-spatial demographics, transport, energy, affordable housing, water supply and sanitation, urban economy, and poverty, and inequality and exclusion.


Urban India 2011: Evidence
Aromar Revi, Charis Elizabeth Idicheria, Garima JainGeetika Anand, H S Sudhira, Jessica Seddon, Kavita Wankhade, M K Rashmi, Priyadarshini J Shetty, Revati Dhoble, Shashikala V Gowda, Shriya Anand, Sujatha Srinivasan | 22 November 2011


India’s urban transition, a once in history phenomenon, has the potential to shift the country’s social, environmental, political, and economic trajectory. It could catalyse the end of calorie poverty if post-1989 China is any example. It could deepen democracy and human development, leading to more Indians living longer, better quality and better educated lives. It could enable the transition to a less resource intensive development, with lower throughputs, footprints and environmental impacts that could reshape global trends because of India’s demographic and economic size. But these are only aspirations. Hard evidence indicates that much work needs to be done to realise these opportunities over the next twenty to thirty years.


Research Papers and Articles

Sub-cities of Bengaluru: Urban Heterogeneity through Empirical Typologies
Krishnachandran Balakrishnan, Shriya Anand

Vol. 50, Issue No. 22, EPW

Sub-city typologies could enable a better understanding of urban heterogeneity. Ward-level Population Enumeration Data, and Houselisting and Housing Census Data from the 2011 Census is used here to construct sub-city typologies for Bengaluru. Nine variables from the census are selected to represent three broad classes of attributes for each ward–housing conditions, availability of amenities, and socio-economic status. Hierarchical and non-hierarchical cluster analysis methods are then used to delineate empirical typologies. The results indicate that a four-cluster solution may provide a useful typological classification of Bengaluru wards. The utility and limitations of such an approach are also discussed.


Reading Spatial Inequality in Urban India
Gautam Bhan and Arindam Jana

Vol. 50, Issue No. 22, EPW

Where one lives matters because patterns of spatial inequality shape the horizons of urban lives. They also critically affect urban policies, especially in large metropolitan cities where intra-urban differences can be of very large magnitudes. Gaining insights from recently released ward-level census data for urban settlements, this paper uses a set of constructed indices and geospatial maps to focus on spatial inequality within cities and across scales of settlements. Arguing that the slum is not a proxy for urban poverty and inadequate housing patterns, it underscores the need for newer methods to spatially trace multidimensional urban poverty and vulnerability.


Visualising the ‘Grey’ Area between Rural and Urban India
Arindam Jana

Do official levels of urban population in India truly capture the extent that lives in dense, highly populated conditions with significant non-agricultural earning opportunities commonly associated with ‘urban’ contexts? According to the Census of India, the country is about one third urban—27 percent in 2001 and 31 percent in 2011. However, these figures fail to capture those sections of the population that live in urban-like settlements but are not counted due to the strict dichotomous nature of ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ definitions in India. In this paper, we bring focus to the patterns and geographies of the grey area between ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ thereby shedding light on future trends of urbanisation in India, and underlining policy implications in terms of resource allocation and governance.


How Urban?
Arindam Jana


Urban India and its Female Demographic Dividend
Shriya Anand and Jyothi Koduganti


In Indian Cities, Women Travel Slow, Men In A Rush
Pooja Rao


How can India spread the joy of reading to all?
B Preedip Balaji, Vinay MS and Mohan Raju


How does the City Eat?
Jyothi Koduganti and Charrlotte Adelina


Data Visualisation and Interactive Data Applications

  1. Topo App
    The team designed and developed a web-app for comparing 1950’s topographical maps (published by the US Army Topographic Command, sourced from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection of the University of Texas [link: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/ams/india/] to current physical maps.
  2. Energy Consumption Dashboard
    The UIL team developed a Visual Basic application for the Administrative team at IIHS to track energy consumption in the IIHS BCC on a regular basis.
  3. Slum Profile Dashboards
    The team developed an application to visualise Census of India slum data for the Karnataka Affordable Housing Policy and Slum Development Policy.
  4. Application to visualise Goods and Commodities data
    The team is working towards creating an interactive application to visualise year-wise imports and exports by state using the goods and commodities database published by the Government of India.
  5. Bengaluru traffic visualisation
    The team is working on visualising Bengaluru’s traffic using images of Google’s traffic maps.
  6. Automating the process of tracking IIHS research impact
    The team developed a Parser written in Visual Basic to assist the IIHS Library with tracking Google scholar citations of IIHS research. This Visual Basic module implements a querier and parser for Google Scholar’s output with features including tracking citation counts of individual authors, irrespective of their profile presence and creating a year wise summary sheet of citation count.


The UIL has been actively engaged in teaching quantitative skills, including numeracy, data analysis and research methods for a variety of learners including state and city government officials, private sector employees, non-profit sector employees and students from various backgrounds.


Urban Fellows Programme
The UIL offers modules on quantitative analysis for urban research and practice as part of the Skill labs during fellowship. The Lab offers courses on both basic and advanced data analysis as well as data visualisation. These courses build basic skills in statistical software, while also teaching statistical concepts and introducing learners to secondary datasets such as the Census of India and the National Sample Survey Office.


Urban Practitioners’ Programme

Data Visualisation: Approaches and Techniques
The UIL has conducted seven iterations of this short course since 2013. The objective of the course is to familiarise learners with communication protocols of data as well as contemporary tools in data analysis and visualisation, with cases, examples and live exercises. At the end of the course, learners are equipped to work with spatial, quantitative and qualitative data to create simple, comprehensible and compelling narratives, in different forms, such as analytics and dashboards.


Urban Research Using Public Data Sources
28 – 30 March 2014 Conducted in collaboration with IGIDR.
Lead faculty: Prof S Chandrasekhar and Prof Sripad Motiram from IGIDR
The course explained the nature of both the datasets, the types of variables for which data is collected, the processes of data collection, and explained how to go about analysing data from these sources. Learners were introduced to the concept of sampling, calculate population estimates from raw NSS data using multipliers, and were exposed to some of the critiques of working with sample data. They also discussed how the sampling frame has changed to reflect the changing realities of urbanisation in India. At the end of the course, learners were able to analyse both Census and NSS data to address their urban research questions.


Public Data Sources for Planning – UPP – AMRUT
The UIL conducts a module on introduction to urban data sources for town planning officials under the AMRUT capacity building programmes conducted by the UPP.


Unpacking Urbanism

Randomised Evaluations in Public Policy
Randomised evaluations seem to be the gold standard when analysing the effect of any intervention or change in policy these days. With the use of carefully run experiments and a robust statistical design, economists claim to have been bringing greater scientific rigour in understanding the process of economic development. With random allocation of the intervention aimed at specific population or region, researchers claim to have the most credible answers to important questions of public policy such as do food stamps work, does performance pay for teachers improve pupil learning outcomes, whether open defection leads to stunting amongst children etc. But the randomised evaluation methods are not without their criticism. Not only are they expensive in terms of time and money and may not reveal causation owing to confounding factors, there are a number of ethical and moral issues involved in carrying out these experiments.


This course introduced participants to the concept of randomised evaluation, the kind of questions it seeks to address and the ethical issues in carrying out these experiments. Participants were exposed to the methods which are being increasingly used to address important questions of public policy in developing countries.


The UIL has collaborated with other researchers working in the area of urban informatics since its inception. We have worked with the School of Information at the University of Michigan, Prabu Raja at Transparent Chennai and Siddharth Hande at Kabadiwala Connect.