Welcome To A New Age
A new day has dawned for urban planning. Smart initiatives that use data and technology are beginning to thrive in cities around the world. Urban Intelligence stopped by the Future of Planning Hackathon held at the Urban Innovation Centre, 2-4 December 2016.
First Brexit, then Trump, this weekend there was a populist rejection of Matteo Renzi’s proposals for constitutional reform in a referendum that now threatens to throw Italy into a new political and economic crisis. It’s clear that times are changing, as 2016 strikes again. But whilst the Italians went out to the polls, another group of people were doing something slightly different here in London. At the Urban Innovation Centre in Clerkenwell, property technology startup, Land Insight, and the Future Cities Catapult hosted a ‘Planning System Hackathon’ to experiment with new uses for planning application data.
A hackathon is an intensive event in which software developers, designers, domain experts, and others come together to devise new ideas on how to use technology to solve real world problems. The subject matter for this hackathon was ‘better use of planning application data’, with the data being provided through Land Insight’s newly available ‘application programming key’, or API. APIs are common and allow websites to access third party databases — familiar examples include the Google Maps and YouTube APIs.
Around 35 people turned up with a range of ambitions, from achieving improved transparency of development proposals for local residents, to identifying new potential demand for goods and services. Participants were grouped into teams with a mix of skills and experience on Friday evening and were given two days to develop their ideas to present them to a panel of judges on Sunday afternoon. The judges included Stefan Webb of the Future Cities Catapult, Taylor Wescoatt of Seedcamp, Tom Kenny of Shared Assets, and Eddie Holmes, an entrepreneur and PropTech specialist.
They say time flies by when you’re having fun, and, surely, Sunday rolled around fast. 6 teams passionately pitched their ideas. Teams ‘Plan Gage’, ‘You Plan’, and ‘Future Scope’ devised new ways of using the web to improve public engagement with communities on planned changes in their neighbourhoods, touching on matters of democracy, council services, development design quality, and land use optimisation. They argued for breaking down the planning jargon on site notices of planning applications and presented better tools for visualising proposed development schemes in 3D.
The other three teams had a slightly more commercial focus. ‘Activate Space’ sought to become a mediator between communities and landowners to maximise the use of temporary spaces. They planned to use a combined range of information drawn from planning policy, planning applications, Land Registry and Valuation Office Agency, and Freedom of Information data in order to identify where gaps between supply and demand existed. ‘Co Creative Places’ sought to create short term ‘land use experiment’ projects of temporary uses that could inform market research for businesses and councils to ensure that the right sites were being used for the best purposes. Finally, ‘Demand Vision’ sought to use planning applications and other data to model the demand that would likely arise in an area as a result of planned developments. This data could be cross-referenced with supply information to spot new opportunities to respond to the demand and capacity.
The judges voted Demand Vision and Plan Gage to be the joint winners, with a special mention given to You Plan. Jonny Britton, the CEO of Land Insight said:
Throughout the event the planning system was turned inside out and re-imagined simply by providing access to good data. What was made crystal clear from the ideas that were created in just one weekend, is that if the data the planning system holds is made easier to access then a huge amount of social and economic value can be created.
Stefan Webb, the Head of Projects at the Future Cities Catapult, was impressed with what the teams were able to achieve over a weekend to solve real problems. He invited the groups to apply to a range of paid calls for planning solutions that are due to be announced in the new year as part of the Catapult’s new ‘Future of Planning’ programme.
The Planning System Hackathon and the enthusiasm that shone this past weekend clearly demonstrated that data and technology would play an ever-increasing critical role in the future of planning. The Catapult released a report today identifying the state of the art in digital planning in the UK and around the world. The report illustrates that there is a lot of action in cities globally to devise ‘information age’ solutions for urban planning by the government, businesses, and voluntary communities. Indeed, the momentum is here, and a New Age for the planning system is dawning.
Author: Daniel Mohamed
Daniel holds a BSc in City and Regional Planning from Cardiff University and a MSc in Urban Regeneration from the Bartlett, UCL. He has over seven years of experience working across the public, private and voluntary sectors of planning and development across the UK and Europe. He’s also a leading advocate of digital planning and the use of tech and urban data to solve problems in the built and natural environments.