Urban Operations Research


Urban Operations Research


by Richard C. Larson and Amedeo R. Odoni

Increasingly, citizens are demanding more urban services, by type, quantity, and quality. Yet the ability of most cities in the United States and elsewhere to pay for additional services has been severely strained during the 1970s. The resulting pressure, between the demands for more and better services, on the one hand, and decreased costs, on the other, has created a strong need for improved management decision making in urban services. It is a primary purpose of this book to provide methods for assisting these decisions.

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Urban Operations Research has become a classic in its 25+ years since first printing. The book covers a wide variety of applied operations research in a way not seen elsewhere. With an emphasis on model building, not theorem proving, the book starts with a review applied probability and contains material on geometrical probability not easily accessible elsewhere. Spatial as well as temporal Poisson processes are covered in depth. Then the applied probability is put to good use in a chapter devoted to queueing models. This is a stand-alone introduction to queueing theory that may be useful in a variety of courses, just as the geometrical probability segment has stand-alone value. The next chapter is a unique tour of spatial queues, combining geometrical probability concepts with models of queues from previous chapters. The core of the chapter is development of the Hypercube Queueing model, a model that -- 31 years after its original development -- remains the gold standard in modeling municipal emergency services such as police, emergency medical and fire departments.  The homework problems at the end of this chapter are the most challenging in the book, many worthy of the most advanced doctoral students.  The book then shifts slightly from primarily probabilistic models to a combination of probabilistic and deterministic models, focusing on transportation networks analysis.  This graph-focused chapter develops rigorous results by intuitive visual arguments, not abstract algebraic theorem proving.  It too is a stand-alone chapter, the longest and most comprehensive in the book.  There follows a brief chapter on the theory and mechanics of Monte Carlo simulation.  This is good material even for people who use packaged simulation software, as it focuses on fundamentals and issues to think about even when using packaged software.  The book concludes with a unique chapter on implementation, based on the personal experiences of the authors and their students in attempting to implement the models, methods and philosophies of the book.  It is essential for any who seeks to apply these methods in practice.

Educational Philosophy

The book aims to develop deep mathematical modeling skills in the student, often within a probabilistic environment.  Most of the models and methods are developed within the context of a real application or situation. The book contains no marbles in urns, no coins being flipped. But it has numerous real situations, the majority motivated by operations in cities. We try to get the student to a skill level where she/he can confront a new complex modeling situation, and starting with a blank sheet of paper and a sharpened pencil, can have the confidence and skill to frame, formulate and eventually solve the problem at hand. We do not focus on ‘turn-the-crank’ recipes for solving problems. Much of the learning is accomplished in doing the homework problems. While the book’s name has ‘Urban” as a distinguishing adjective, the student who masters its contents will be a good modeler in a wide variety of situations, not only in urban settings. We know this because our many hundreds of “Urban OR” graduates who have gone off and done great things have told us so! 

Distinguishing Characteristics

The book is not a cookie-cutter book on some specialized topic of Operations Research. One does not find other books remotely similar. It is a unique combination of ingredients put together to help the student become a skilled OR modeler. Students who have previously studied applied probability in the traditional way are often delightfully astonished that probability can be used creatively and with great impact in so many important applied settings. Many turn distain for probability into love of probability! Likewise those who need to study networks or graphs to understand models and algorithms that pertain to urban traffic grids are pleased that so much useful material is collected in one place, and presented rigorously but intuitively and visually at the same time. With several chapters and even parts of chapters useable as stand-alone units, the instructor designing a one-semester or one-quarter course can pick and choose from the book, and then easily add her/his own material to complement and supplement the book’s contents.

Praise for Urban Operations Research

“For over a quarter of a century, Urban Operations Research has been a primary source for introducing thousands of students to the world of operations research applications. Anyone interested in how a city can improve its critical services will find basic and advanced ideas clearly explained and grounded in practicality. Of special interest is the rare discussion on “Implementation.” Here, the novice student and the practiced researcher will find sound advice that will help ensure that their mathematical models will make a difference. Case in point, ‘Beware of the Vanishing Advocate.’" Saul I. Gass, Professor Emeritus, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, College Park

“Of all the courses I took as an undergraduate and graduate student at M.I.T., Urban Operations Research undoubtedly had the greatest impact on my career and on my way of thinking about the world around me. To this day, over thirty years after taking the course, I often find myself referring to the text for insights and solutions to problems. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in operations research at any level.” Mark S. Daskin, Bette and Neison Harris Professor of Teaching Excellence, Northwestern University

“Having gone through course after course on the theoretical underpinnings of OR, this book opened my eyes as a student to the impact that OR modeling can have on real-world problems. It showed me how rigorous analysis can be applied to address fundamental problems in society. It’s an absolute classic in the field.” Patrick T. Harker, President, University of Delaware

“I still use my totally worn-out copy of the first edition of Urban Operations Research, bought when I was a graduate student at MIT. Dick and Amedeo’s book belongs on the desk of all operations researchers, not only those interested in efficient resource allocation of urban services. It is one of the finest examples of the power of quantitative modeling. The text is a classic and I am delighted to see it re-edited.” Patrick Jaillet—Edmund K. Turner Professor and Department Head, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, MIT

“Urban Operations Research introduced me to realistic and practical modeling of very complex problems. What I learned from Amedeo and Dick changed the way I think and my approach to problem solving, setting the direction for my career. I have been using my loose-leaf, pre-publication copy ever since 1978 when I took the course.” Barry Smith, Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist, Sabre Holdings (widely considered to be an “inventor” of airline revenue management)

“Urban Operations Research is a tremendous resource for improved modeling and decision making in today's dynamic business environment—both an essential text for preparing students and a valuable reference for experienced OR practitioners." Mitchell Burman, Managing Partner, Analytics Operations Engineering, Inc.