Data can transform London’s built environment – as long as we share

The Mayor wants London to be the open data capital of the world but first we need to create a data-sharing culture, according to our Data City event panellists

If you travel around the capital on public transport, perhaps you use Transport for London’s own app or the slicker Citymapper?

Either way, these are just two of over 600 apps using TfL’s data as part of its commitment to data-sharing. Now the Mayor has created a new Data for London board to advise on creating public value and commercial opportunity from data sharing.

Our recent alumni network event, Data City, heard from Data for London board member, Volker Buscher, who is Arup’s Chief Data Officer. Volker sees opening up data as a major opportunity for cities, with a particular focus on sustainability and climate change.

“The role of the built environment will be very interesting,” he said. “Our transport networks, our energy system, our waste management, our housing policy, are very local and physical activities. That’s why I think that the London data board  and the built environment will work very closely together.”

Using data to map high street resilience

Amanda Robinson of PRD has been working with the Greater London Authority on a project that shows clearly the benefits of data sharing.

By layering public data sets such as footfall and spend, the project team has been able to show the resilience of high streets to the shock of Covid.

Interestingly, the smaller, more resilient high streets had learned some lessons by the second wave of Covid and partially recovered while larger metropolitan centres were less able to respond. Amanda adds:

“Seeing how high streets have reacted to the pandemic, we may be able to see a similar response to other shocks such as the cost-of-living rise.” 

These findings have implications for policymakers interested in local economies, but could also drive investment in retail or housing.

In Watford, urban designer Johnny Lui is using a gamer’s approach to enable the council to engage communities in shaping their town.

With virtual reality graphics that have a distinctly Minecraft feel, Watford residents can direct the use of developer funding to neighbourhoods. “With better engagement data, we can achieve better outcomes,” Johnny says.

Liberating data from planning websites

From city-wide applications to neighbourhood improvements, data is shaping the development of the built environment. Digital planning expert Euan Mills of Blocktype has been helping the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to digitise the planning system, which he argues was “living in the world of PDFs”.

Euan believes that opening up data locked in these PDFs makes the planning system more accessible to residents with a view on what gets built as well as organisations looking for somewhere to build. “With that data, we can build services that are useful to people,” he says.

Government can tell us what data must be publicly available and enforce data standards – and seems minded to do so. But the strong message from the Data City panel was the importance of creating a data-sharing culture. Volker Buscher concludes:

“We need to create a culture whereby the economy of London wants to share and is leaning into the concept of connecting, not just collecting data.” .

In other words, data sharing is a leadership issue before it is a technical issue. Organisations need to make a strategic decision to open up their data for sharing, often before knowing exactly what the benefits might be. The Data City panel are in no doubt the benefits will come.

Thanks to Arup for hosing the Data City event on 29 November 2022 and to all the panellists; alumni rep Mandar Puranik for chairing, and our alumni for taking part. You can download the event slides here:

Data City full slide deck (PDF)