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How governments are using big data to build better cities

Dr Serryn Eagleson explores how the future could include all the big data about Australian Cities mapped, connected and made available to people with a right to use it.

The future could include all the big data about Australian Cities mapped, connected and made available to people with a right to use it. This would provide a real understanding of how things look today so we can thoughtfully plan for the future. The Australian and Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN) has been working with researchers from across Australia on such a system but more needs to be done together.

Over recent years, Australia has had one of the fastest population growth rates in the developed world. A significant amount of this growth is from people living at the edges of our largest cities. The ABS forecast that this growth is expected to continue with over 12 million additional residents living in Australian Capital cities within the next 50 years (this amounts to a 77% increase). Ensuring that Australian cities retain high levels of liveability is clearly an imperative which is reflected in recent state and national government planning policies. However actually planning for livable communities is a complex task which requires a data-driven evidence base to understand and therefore

Ensuring that Australian cities retain high levels of liveability is clearly an imperative which is reflected in recent state and national government planning policies. However actually planning for livable communities is a complex task which requires a data-driven evidence base to understand, and therefore, accommodate future considerations – from commercial productivity, housing types and demographic changes in the future such as an ageing population. Beyond all else, people expect that their cities have the enabling infrastructure, such as public transport and open space that supports their lifestyle.

 

AURIN big data

 

A big and complex challenge requires creative thinking. Governments and researchers are currently harnessing large quantities of BIG Data to understand the complexities within cities and anticipate future and problems to develop practical solutions as part of planning processes. The approach, therefore, needs to be clever and thoughtful. For instance, the current activities include:

Sensors in the streets that monitor the number of people and integrate this data with weather forecasts to predict the number of people likely to be in an area. This data has many potential applications including predicting the retail expenditure on a given day, informing disaster response planning and managing the flow of pedestrians within an area.

Calculating the number of mobile phones and velocity at which they are travelling. This information can determine how busy our roads are and by what mode of transport people are travelling (eg. Cars, bike, walking). Mobile Apps such as WAZE are using this data to enable community-based traffic and navigation. Citizens within an area share real-time traffic and road information to save time, money spent on petrol and improve daily commuting for all.

Monitoring social media to develop insights into the combined behaviour of people and their interaction with the built environment or put more simply, the area in which they live. For instance, the paths people travel through an area can give an indication of local amenity and the destinations they visit for daily activities and provide insights into the health and wealth of the local population.

 

But turning data into meaning requires connections. Unfortunately, our research community is faced with a big problem: while vast swatches of data is collected, traditional barriers are hindering the needed sharing, analysis, and interpretation of this information. This hurt is real and is holding back the future success of Australian cities.

 

AURIN big data

 

However, AURIN is working to turn this around. AURIN is working to enable researchers and governments with data at a sufficient resolution to deliver a new era in scientific methods, insights, and analytics. This can enable truly evidence-based decision making.

Some of the most detailed releases of data for use and reuse in Australia include VicRoads Open data portal (which releases data on traffic volumes, crashes and speed limits), Queensland Police (which provides city block crime statistics), The Australian Business Register (which contains 8 million business locations) and Geosciences Australia (in the understanding of landfill and petrol station locations).

These data sets enable new insights and draw researchers towards the organisations where big data is available. For example, in Victoria new research is being undertaken into the gambling patterns as the data has been made available by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.

While there is progress more needs to be done and quickly – after all sharing is caring. Data which is still difficult to access relates to land use, public transport patronage energy and water consumption. Unfortunately, this data is often held by the disparate and often competing commercial sectors who do not have a culture to make data available to the greater good this would also assist in curbing our use of finite resources.

So if we can solve the problems associated with sharing data, the next step to maintain momentum is to ensure that the evidence is available and understood by politicians and decision makers. The productivity Commission has recently released an issues paper “Data Availability and Use” and describes the need to move more data from silos out into the community to increase confidence and opportunity for innovation.

 

AURIN big data

 

Enabling data to be readily understood is key. The AURIN Map is a significant step forward. The AURIN Map has been developed to surface the information collated by Australia’s leading researchers. This includes the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) at the University of Canberra and Australian Population and Migration Research Centre at the University of Adelaide.

The result is a distilled collection of the information that forms a powerful understanding for decision makers by providing an online platform of analysed and integrated data sets. This tool, developed by Terria.JS, is linked with the National Map (hosted by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet) which quickly and effectively loads significant volumes of research of data into the one place. By doing so the disparities and similarities between suburbs are clearly evident and comparisons between capital cities are readily available.

To provide feedback to government on data related issues we recommend that you contribute to the Productivity Commission public inquiry on Data Availability and Use further information is available from www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/current/data-access

If you would like to discuss how to make the data available via AURIN please contact us.

Dr. Serryn Eagleson is Data, Business and Applications Manager at the Australian Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN).

 

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