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Spatial data gap hindering smarter, greener cities: report

Image courtesy of Kalyani Group.

A new study by the University of South Australia has found that evidence-based urban development needs key planning data gaps to be addressed.

The report from the UniSA node of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) found that the spatial data typically available to urban planners is not sufficient to support implementation of concepts such as mixed use land and active transport.

Professor Stefanie Dühr, lead researcher on the study, says that contemporary urban planning policies need compatible, current and compatible spatial datasets to allow outcomes to be measured.

“There is currently a gap between the data being collected and the data end users need, particularly for urban planners, and there are important gaps in the data available on certain topics,” she said.

“So, for example, where traffic flows are measured, datasets are strongly focused on motorised road traffic use only. Data on other modes of transport, notably movements of pedestrians and cyclists are not collected systematically, and this presents an important blind spot on alternative forms of transport.

“If we don’t know who uses public spaces such as walkways and cycle paths, and when and how they use them, we cannot plan adequately for current or future use.”

Professor Dühr and her colleagues said that systemic problems such as the lack of shared industry standards and the privatisation of the collection process are hampering optimal data use, despite advances in technology and methods of data gathering.

The team says that while high resolution, frequently updated LiDAR and remotely sensed data offer opportunity for planners, but the datasets need to be accessible and customisable for specific planning tasks — and that public sector planners need the skills to leverage their potential fully.

Professor Dühr has called on governments to develop clear techniques to ensure that data collection, analysis and application of data products aligns with urban development aspirations.

“Bridging the gap between data providers and data users, especially in relation to the requirements of urban planning, will be important if progress towards sustainable development and low‐carbon cities is to be made,” she said.

“This will require some political acknowledgement of the important role that spatial planning has in achieving positive societal outcomes – something which may be difficult to achieve given the current emphasis on facilitating economic investment and consequently the scaling back of planning regulation.”

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