PT the Auditor

Parking and Big Data

Melissa Bean Sterzick

I was reading my Smithsonian magazine just the other day and came across some information that gave me a huge dose of anxiety. I should have known, the cover article was titled “The Future is Here.”

First I started on an article that said of 1,000 Americans surveyed, 30 percent believe that school-age children need more math education and 19 percent think they need more English/writing/grammar/reading instruction. The article also expounded on the true need, and that is science and technology education, and offered dire warnings about how children in the United States rank 17th out of 34 developed nations on some very important test with an imposing acronym.

I immediately slumped into a depression about my two children enduring 12 years of public school, four years of college and two in graduate studies only to realize they can’t find a job because they are miles behind their counterparts in 17 other countries. Hopefully, my daughters will stick together so when I’m dead and they are living on the streets they can share a blanket and scraps from the trash cans.

For my own peace of mind, I didn’t finish that article but went on to one about microbial life – “the normal community of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that makes up what scientists call the microbiome.” Apparently there are different microbiological groups living in our guts, armpits, ear canals, and mouths, as well as a unique combo for each hand.  Our bodies are a veritable “metropolis” of tiny critters.  This new and improved “Big Science” approach is supposed to be revolutionary for the medical industry and its patients, but I was trying to eat my lunch, so I moved on to another article.

Next came a fascinating piece on the discovery of Alexander Graham Bell recordings and a method for extracting sound from his long-outdated medium – wax and cardboard discs. After that there was an article about Legos that was just too long to even start.

Last but not least was the article that actually related to parking and what inspired me to review my “leisure” reading in Parking Today. Titled “X and the City,” the piece discussed mathematicians’ ability to analyze a city in a way that allows them to do everything from “predicting  the height of the tallest skyscraper to estimating the crime rate.”

You might as well add quantifying, pricing and planning parking to the list of things these equations can do, because they’re pretty comprehensive even in areas where they have not yet been applied. According to the article, what these brainiacs are developing is a “theoretical science of urbanism,” and there is no doubt parking will eventually be addressed by this new branch of science.

The clincher for me and my twitchy psyche was a description in the Smithsonian article of the scope and power of this new science, which some call “Big Data.”

“People carry tracking devices in their pockets all day long. They’re called cellphones. You don’t need to wait for some agency to publish statistics from two years ago. You can get this data almost in real time, block by block, hour by hour. We have acquired the technology to know virtually anything that goes on in an urban society,” says Steven Koonin, a physicist.

I’m not going to get into how this affects individual privacy, because we all know the truth about that even if we don’t like to admit it.

My question is “How much do we really want to know?” Do I want to read every day about how specifically American schools are failing or how many creepy fungi are living up my nose? Do I want to know my cousin in North Carolina just ran 3 miles and had a smoothie? Do I want to know there are 405 parking spots between me and my destination? Do I want to know 6 people have recently died in Switzerland from a powerful antibiotic-resistant strain of elephantitus? Do I want to know about “queuing theory” and how it applies to hamburger orders?

I’m a journalist, not an ostrich. I crave information even though it can be overwhelming. Big Data can be hard on Little Minds. But Big Data can save us money, time and energy. Big Data can make us healthier and safer. Big Data can be used for good. And there’s a lot of future still ahead.

Melissa Bean Sterzick is proofreader, an associate editor,

and amateur parker. She can be reached at


Article Abstract from July, 2013

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