Antonio Vázquez Brust, or Tony, is an Argentinean urban planner and information technologist who spent the first ten years of his professional career designing and maintaining large-scale computer systems. After completing his Master of Science in Urban Informatics in May 2017 with a perfect GPA of 4.0, Tony returned to Argentina to launch a new Data Lab at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella’s School of Government, and to work as an urban data science consultant for the think tank CIPPEC.
While at Northeastern, Tony collaborated with the Boston Area Research Initiative, conducting original research at the intersection of urban science and public policy. He also interned at The American City Coalition. This is Tony’s Northeastern story…
“When people ask me what I do, I like to tell them that I’m a hybrid—both a computer scientist and an urban planner, the two degrees I got back home before coming to Northeastern.”
According to Tony, cities are, without a doubt, the most complex systems ever created by humans. Economy, sociology, geography, and even geopolitics were always part of urbanism. But now, information technology is playing an increasing role in how we understand and shape cities. Precisely because of how much is at stake, Tony wanted to dig deeper into urban-focused data science, becoming a practitioner with a humanist agenda.
He applied to and qualified for the Argentine Presidential Fellowship in Science and Technology, a Fulbright-managed scholarship. After looking at other urban informatics programs, Northeastern stood out to Tony because of the depth and orientation of its curriculum.
“Comparing programs, I felt that here I would get the chance to hone a comprehensive set of skills, with a focus on research and policy impact as opposed to, say, an entrepreneurial approach. I’m very happy with that decision.”
There were many courses that Tony considers transformative because they changed or expanded the way he sees complex processes.
However, he says that the most influential coursework was PPUA 5262 “Big Data for Cities,” an introductory course into the urban informatics program.
“I think of it as a microcosm of urban informatics as a whole. During that semester we learned programming skills, applied statistical analysis, developed some cool visualizations, dabbled with GIS, conducted fieldwork to compare our data with the ground truth, and even presented to Boston city officials. All of this using open data that the city of Boston regularly updates and makes publicly available.”
After completing his first semester at Northeastern, Tony was invited to join the Boston Area Research Initiative where he used big data to identify indicators of gentrification, track them across time, and assess their impact. The goal of this project was to capture insights that might shed light on the gentrification process, as well as to obtain a full set of indicators that might be shared with policymakers. Tony maintained a blog about his original research at the intersection of urban science and public policy.
He created the visualization on the left to demonstrate hourly tweeting activity in the Greater Boston area.
“I view research projects as an integral part of my education. I learn way faster when I’m immersed in a project with tangible consequences.”
Tony completed an internship at The American City Coalition, a nonprofit organization focused on neighborhood revitalization.
The American City Coalition has partnered with the Boston Housing Authority to help rebuild some of the city’s public housing projects as mixed-income communities.
“They were looking for someone to help them with hard technical problems, research and analyze housing data, and build a database of affordable housing around the city. But there was also a social and policy-aware component of my tasks. As we interacted with many different stakeholders, I also created maps and visualization tools to help communicate our findings and enable discussion, and I developed strategies to relocate tenants in a fair way that will move during the project. This was exactly the kind of challenge that really pulls me in: a mixture of technical, social, and policy factors with results at stake that I care about.”
Tony received two awards from the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs: the Barry Bluestone “Think and Do” Award, given to the capstone project that embodies the School’s ideal of timely, evidence-based, policy-focused research that addresses an important problem for a client with intent of positive social change, and the Outstanding Academic Performance Award, given to the graduate—Master’s or PhD—with the highest GPA.
For his capstone, Tony worked with a team of graduate students to assess the ability of cities to manage federal grant funding for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Their assignment was a continuation of a fall 2016 capstone project that investigated federal grant oversight and administration practices in cities.
After graduation, Tony returned to his hometown, Buenos Aires, to launch a new Data Lab at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella’s School of Government.
He teaches courses in the Master of Urban Economics Program at Universidad Di Tella, as well as an analytics class for urban planners at the University of Buenos Aires.
Tony also consults for the Argentine government and researches the spatial spread of endemic deceases using big data analysis.
“There’s a lot to be done when it comes to integrating analytics with government-backed open data initiatives, as a tool for policy making, but particularly to bring citizens into the process, engaging them as active participants in city governance. Technology, by definition, is a tool to transform reality. We don’t need to be passive while it’s being wielded. Let’s make sure it’s always used to empower, and not to curtail our right to the city and our right to make and re-make our cities and ourselves.”
Learn more at:
School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs—Northeastern University