Big data not being harnessed to improve infrastructure planning

Australia is failing to leverage the benefits of big data to plan and deliver schools, hospitals and recreational facilities in growing urban areas, according to a new report.

Dr Somwrita Sarkar

AHRUI’s report, New housing supply, population growth and access to social infrastructure, models its findings on greenfield areas in greater Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, using data to project population growth and estimate access to social infrastructure.

Lead author Somwrita Sarkar of the University of Sydney, together with colleagues Emily Moylan, Hao Wu, Rashi Shriastava, Nicole Gurran and David Levinson, set out to investigate how data can be better used to inform infrastructure planning.

“It’s about harnessing very big sources of data and then crunching the numbers and applying a few new algorithms to see what data can tell us about planning cities better,” Dr Sarkar told Government News.

“If you look at international examples like London or New York or other places in the US, very very big data sets are made available for public research and that’s one place where Australia really needs to move forward.”

Data sources an digital tools

The report looks at a range of data sources and tools that can help computation, mapping and spatial visualisation including Geoscape, OpenStreetMap (OSM) Road link median speed data and General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data.

The self-funded government-owed public company Geoscape offers quarterly updates of the national building footprint,  which Dr Sarakar says can be used to predict population growth.

“We get to know every three months exactly the number of new dwellings or buildings that have come in place,” Dr Sarkar says.

“That can lead to population projections which can be used to compute accessibility to social infrastructure.”

Road traffic data provided by Australian startup Compass IOT, as well as GTFS can help calculate accessibility.

“You can’t compute accessibility properly if you don’t have travel times availability,” Dr Sarkar says.

“The median road link speed data is collected by tracking (vehicles) passing a particular road at a particular point in time and putting together millions of points to compute average speed.

“GTFS makes available all of the transit schedule data and road data which tells you your walking time, plus waiting time, plus catching the bus or train time, plus walking to my destination time.”

Dr Sakar says tools to track building activity and project population are useful in their own right but can also form a pipeline leading to better accessibility analysis.

“Sadly, this should all be public data because it’s the public contributing to making it, but at the moment we have to buy it,” she says.

Lack of data sharing

Dr Sakar says unlike critical infrastructure like electricity and sewerage, there’s often a lag between population growth and social infrastructure, largely because of a lack of coordination and data sharing between the government agencies involved.

 Tools like the ones explored in the report can help overcome these problems, she says.

The report argues that timely, fine-grained spatial data is critical to better planning, and that open data platforms, including data on existing and planned infrastructure, should be shared across government agencies.

“Access to social infrastructure such as schools, health services, leisure and recreation facilities is critical
to community wellbeing in newly developing areas—especially if we hope to realise Australia’s urban policy
aspiration of ‘30-minute cities,” it concludes.

“New data sources and tools offer an opportunity to address this problem by providing more timely insights
to inform the planning and provision of social infrastructure in rapidly growing areas.”

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2 thoughts on “Big data not being harnessed to improve infrastructure planning

  1. I completely agree with this viewpoint. Better data sharing and accessibility is essential if Australian cities are going to continue to provide such good quality of life whilst under pressure from population growth and urbanisation.

    I understand the commercial value of the data, but governments need to collaborate and purchase as a consortium to secure a suitable price. The data can then be made available to those people an organisations, both within and external to government, so that they can plan and manage cities to meet everyone’s reasonable expectations.

  2. Yes:“If you look at international examples like London or New York or other places in the US, very very big data sets are made available for public research and that’s one place where Australia really needs to move forward.”

    The issue of better use of data in Planning,especially Infrastructure Planning, it seems is Not the lack of Data but the unwillingness to correctly interpret the data when Its not what Public sector political minders want to hear.

    Given the NSW planning system is bent if not broken.
    So, More data available to public wilt just highlight how the existing data are used / manipulated towards a political end rather than a better planning outcome.
    So, I Expect that almost now Standard NSWG Commercial in Confidence restrictions & redaction’s will apply to the data sets.
    So much for Open Government?

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