Data is empowering communities to improve every aspect of their neighbourhoods
Ildefons Cerdà coined the term ‘urbanisation’ during his Eixample (‘expansion’) plan for Barcelona, which almost quadrupled the size of the city in the mid-19th century.
Cerdà’s revolutionary scientific approach calculated the air and light inhabitants needed, occupations of the population and the services they might need. His legacy remains, with
Barcelona’s characteristic long wide avenues arranged in a grid pattern around octagonal blocks offering the inhabitants a city in which they can live a longer and healthier life.
Since Cerdà’s time, urban areas have come a long way in how they are planned and improved, but even today disparities are rife in terms of how ‘liveable’ different areas are. “Liveability is something that I’ve been working on most recently,” says Dr Serryn Eagelson, Data, Business and Applications Manager for the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN).
Dr Eagelson describes her work in finding new datasets as a bit like being a gold prospector. “It encompasses walkability, obesity, clean air, clean water – everything that relates to what you need in order to live well.”
In collaboration with more than 60 institutions and data providers, the $24 million AURIN initiative, funded by the Australian Government and led by The University of Melbourne, tackles liveability and urbanisation using a robust research data approach, providing easy access to over 2,000 datasets organised by geographic areas. AURIN highlights the current state of Australia’s cities and towns and offers the data needed to improve them.
“We have provided AURIN Map to give communities the opportunity to have a look at research output,” says Dr Eagelson. Normally hidden away from public eyes, the information in the AURIN Map can be viewed over the internet and gives communities an unprecedented opportunity to visualise and compare the datasets on urban infrastructure they need to lobby councils and government for improvements in their area.
Recently, AURIN has teamed up with PwC – the largest professional services company in the world – to pool skills, tools and data. “We’re also working with PwC in developing new products,” adds Dr Eagelson. “It’s quite complicated but PwC’s knowledge is giving us new insights into how data can be used for economic policy.”
ANDS also has strong links with AURIN, having undertaken a number of joint projects on topics such as how ‘walkable’ neighbourhoods are, which can then be used to plan things like public transport accessibility (even down to where train station entrances and exits should be located); urban employment clusters, which can aid decision-making on the location of businesses; and disaster management, where the collaborators developed a proof-of-concept intelligent Disaster Decision Support System (iDDSS) to provide critical visual information during natural disasters like floods or bushfires.
“I’m probably most excited by a project releasing the National Health Service Directory – a very rich dataset that we’ve never had access to before,” says Dr Eagelson. “It even includes the languages spoken by people who run those services, and that data’s now being used to look at migrants to Australia, where they move from suburb to suburb, and how their special health needs can be best catered for – so this information has a big public health benefit.”