Changing the urban planning game 

On May 23, 1912 a design by Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion was selected from 137 entries to create a new Australian capital, Canberra.

Working only from a dream and a concept of what he called “a city that meets my ideal of the city of the future,” he and his wife masterminded the physical infrastructure of what has grown to become Australia’s eighth largest city.

More than 100 years into the future, those shaping cities need not only rely on their dreams and the concept of an ideal city of the future, but can also rely on an ever increasing amount of data.

We are increasingly seeing data publicly released – open data – and used to create games to find the best possible outcomes for cities across the globe.

This crowd-sourcing of information through a game or a competition, even in extremely complex areas, has proven to be enormously useful over the past five years.

From discovering new planets, to identifying viruses and quantifying the tastes of millions of Netflix subscribers, complex pieces of real-life data have been turned into a game by companies and not-for-profits alike.

Gamers solved the structure of a retrovirus enzyme which had stumped scientists for a decade in only three weeks; gamers from the Planet Hunter website which analyses data from the NASA Kepler Space Mission have discovered 34 possible planets.

In the case of city planning, data could be released around a number of city services to determine if they could be made more efficient. City administrators could even put “rules” in the game to ensure that any solution would fall within the policy formulation of the city. The city of Istanbul, for example, has gamified their planning system using an online platform.

A local government could make their bus routes, occupancy rates, population statistics, cost of running a service per kilometre and real-time, on-time data available to gamers. There can then be requirements that no solution be more expensive for the city, that it must decrease the cost of bus travel for commuters, and no resident can be more than a certain distance away from a bus stop.

In this scenario, to reach the top of the leader board a player could reduce the average time all commuters spend in transit using all the same tools in a city planner’s arsenal.

There’s no doubt cities would benefit from having thousands of eyes on a problem and potentially tens of thousands of possible solutions with key statistics already collated to determine how their current city problems could be solved.

Crowd-sourcing is already proving to be incredibly useful and could change the urban planning game as we know it.

Dan Wood

Consulting Manager