The Friendly Cities Lab is an active research group within the School of City & Regional Planning and School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech. We study interpersonal relationships in geographic space and popular culture in geographic space. We use large data sets including telecommunications (mobile phones, social media, etc.), migration, transportation, commutes, interior images, consumer behavior, mentorships, real estate, political data, college admissions and sports, online reviews, restaurants and third places, personal interviews and surveys. We develop methods for non-planar spatial network analysis.

Keywords: geographic information systems (GIS),  urban planning, visualization, social networks, complex systems.
Team: urban planners, computer scientists, geographers, architects, engineers, sociologists, statisticians.

Research Themes


Social flows are defined as the flow of people (migrants, commuters, travelers, remittances), information (e-mails, telephone calls, chats, online networks), and thoughts (through mass media, memories and social ties).  We try to build social flow theory that examines why traces occur and how they affect place and people. We create categories, classifications, analytical methods and caveats for understanding these (inter)personal transactions within a GIS environment.


We find the hidden connections  that we can’t see on a map by developing a new measure of social distance: the strength of social flows between places. Social distance can be short for highly-connected distant places or far for nearby places with little connectivity. We study what drives social distance and social nearness: political/administrative, natural and infrastructural boundaries, institutions (universities, military bases, governments), language, religion, social networks, or immigration status.


We look beyond measuring places by demographics like race and income to measuring their spatial connectivity patterns: the geometric extent to which places are connected to all other places. This adds and extra layer of information that can reflect the culture, diversity and idea flow of a city in a way that traditional census data cannot. We automate this process with digital technologies.


We help urban planners plan for love and romance by finding the amenities that best support personal relationships. Parks, bars, Tinder, kayaking? We ask how socialization differs by what else or who else is accessible, how relationships are maintained over changing geographic circumstances, and  how the landscape changes depending on the types and salience of local and distant relationships.


Apr 2020: Xiaofan Liang is presenting Measuring McCities: Quantifying “Chainness” of Foodscapes in the United States at AAG 2020’s Virtual Session.

Apr 2020: With our GISConnect collaborators, FCL is unveiling the exciting GISConnect Video Series featuring women in GIS at AAG 2020’s Virtual Session.  

Apr 2020: Through support from the College of Design, we are organizing GaTech’s first symposium on Diversity, Inclusion and Social Good in Urban Analytics (DISA). It will be postponed. 

Jan 2020: UCGIS has added Social Networks to the GIST Body of Knowledge! Thanks to our editor, Eric Shook.

Jan 2020: Our topic, Social Life in Environmental Planning, was listed as one of NSF’s top 100 research questions for this cool “out-of-the-box contest” on big ideas.

Jan 2020: Xiaofan Liang was awarded a GaTech IDEaS (Institute for Data Engineering and Sciences) Data Science Research Scholarship, working with Prof. Diyi Yang on spatial social network configurations. 

The rest of 2019: Congrats to Xi Liu and Hanzhou Chen for graduating with PSU Geography degrees. Thank you to their awesome committee members, Alan MacEachren, Donna Peuquet, Chris Fowler and Bruce Desmarais and our Dept. Chair, Cindy Brewer.

Feb 2019: Clio will be giving a talk kindly sponsored by the Penn State Institute for CyberScience on Valentine’s Day! <3  Register to attend or watch on zoom!

Feb 2019: Clio is a co-guest editor for the International Journal of Geographical Information Science, special issue on Spatial Social Networks with Xinyue Ye.

Feb 2019: Xi Liu and the FCL team has a new paper in EPJ Data Science called “Inside 50,000 living rooms: an assessment of global residential ornamentation using transfer learning.” It uses Airbnb data and computer vision to learn about how people decorate in different cities!  CHECK OUT MEDIA FROM PSU + Springer Blog.  

Nov 2018: Clio Andris is featured as a co-guest editor for the Journal of Spatial Information Science

Nov 2018: Xi Liu is organizing a session at AAG called “Challenges in Deep Learning for Location-based Social Media”

Nov 2018: Hanzhou Chen defends his thesis proposal defense “Pinpoint vs. Distributed Neighborhood Changes in Metropolitan Areas: Finding Rules for Urban Simulation.” Thanks to committee Dr. Chris Fowler and Dr. Alan MacEachren. 

Nov 2018: Clio Andris gives a campus seminar talk in the Dept. of Recreation, Parks, & Tourism Management (RPTM) (thanks to RPTM prof and collaborator Dr. Bing Pan!)

Oct 2018: FCL students Beichen Tian and Brynne Godfrey analyze phone call patterns of refugees.

Oct 2018: Xi Liu gives talk at Carto Spatial Data Science Conference in NYC “Measuring the Intangible in Cities”

Oct 2018: Clio gives Operations Research Colloquium at Penn State; “Envisioning Social Networks and Social Flows in Environmental Systems Research.”

Sep 2018: Xi Liu presents the results of study using Airbnb to find out how 50,000 global living rooms are decorated at GIScience in Melbourne, 2018. (Thanks to H. Miller).

Sep 2018: We have received over 1000 surveys from the Neighborhood Community Survey project! We are mining the data with help from our networked team.

Sep 2018: Clio Andris presents spatial interaction research during TRANSP Seminar at the University of Tennessee.

Aug 2018: Clio Andris presents ‘Social Data Flows’ research at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.

July 2018: Clio Andris analyzes how athletic ‘pull power’ can increase diversity on campus.