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Government urged to release planning data for future city construction

Caroline Baldwin

Data will have a large role to play in the design of buildings in future cities, but the UK government needs to make data from planning and designs accessible now.

A report from the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) and Arup in the Americas said data can potentially transform the way architects and urban planners design our future city environments.

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The report – Designing with data: shaping our future cities – said utilising this data could result in cheaper experimentation and testing of designs before construction, as well as speeding up processes, saving time and money, and producing more affordable designs.

Riba is calling for the UK government to make the data currently being collected accessible to planners and designers of future cities.

As part of the government’s open data initiative, it should explore the benefits of open data in the digital planning process. 

“Digitising all information submitted for planning and making this data available to the public could unleash economic growth and help local authorities better inform their local planning strategies,” said the report.

Riba president Stephen Hodder said: “The UK currently scores top for open data according to the Open Knowledge Foundation. Lots of the data is available and already being collected, so why aren't more architects taking advantage? We need the government to ensure this data is harnessed by local authorities and made available for architects, developers, residents' groups, charities, and businesses so they can make the best use of it.”

Additionally, the report calls for a joint government, industry and academic working group to oversee the digitisation of planning. 

The group should include built environment professionals and academics and should be facilitated by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Cabinet Office, along with organisations such as the Open Data Institute and the Future Cities Catapult, it said.

Data-driven cities

In 2003, the redesign of Trafalgar Square used 170 observation points and 27,000 surveys from drivers. Now, the report said, much of that data could be gained from mobile devices, parking sensors, congestion charge zones and Oyster cards, all of which provide valuable data about how and when citizens move around the city.

A city which has capitalised on big data is New York. A terabyte of raw information passes through the Mayor’s office daily, and by using this data, New York has been able to ensure frontline staff are more effective. For instance, it has doubled its success rate for discovering shops selling untaxed cigarettes, as well as identifying pharmacies selling an unusual level of certain types of drugs which may indicate prescription drug abuse.

The data has also allowed the city to create mobile apps to solve urban problems such as congestion, road accidents involving cyclists, and locating recycling bins.


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