‘Smart cities’ are the epitome of modern-day life — teaming with technology-based infrastructure such as sophisticated surveillance cameras, timed traffic lights, and automated garbage pickup. Right? Well, what about the human equation?

Between 2017 and 2021, municipal authorities recorded an unusually high rate of elderly residents who had passed away in their homes and were found only after their bodies had started decomposing. Clearly, their absence had gone unnoticed for quite some time.

“Loneliness is an important issue in life: it’s a 21st century epidemic; We must not ignore it,” said Assistant Professor Meirav Aharon-Gutman, head of the Smart Social Strategy (3S) Lab in the Technion Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning. “We believe that the city isn’t just its infrastructure but its people and the connections they form” — or fail to form.

The deaths occurred in the neighborhood of Hadar, where her lab resides. So, Prof. Aharon-Gutman and her team created a digital twin of Hadar — a virtual translation of the physical environment, mapping out qualitative and quantitative data concerning social and economic issues. The project highlights urban isolation among the elderly, featuring 170 layers of data that consider rent, number of people per apartment, homes of elderly citizens, and community centers. Moreover, the research is just a piece of the endeavor.

AI-generated map of loneliness and vulnerability

The urban sociologists of 3S have created an artistic work to illustrate the loneliness and encourage civic participation by the public and Hadar’s decision-makers. “The tools we develop in the 3S Lab can provide social and municipal workers with relevant data about the city’s people, including the loneliest among them,” said Prof. Aharon-Gutman.

“Constellation of Loneliness” uses big data and AI simulation to create a projection of loneliness and vulnerability. The striking display of lit-up dots and lines, indicating elderly populations and connections to community centers, resemble a celestial constellation of stars — hence the name. “Constellation of Loneliness” is on view at the Time Space Existence Venice 2023 Architecture Biennial from May 20 through November 26, 2023.