Led by Jacob Smith, former mayor and current Director of the PlaceMatters Institute, a group of cutting edge nonprofit planning professionals from Open Plans, Place Matters and IBM Foundation commented on the changing role of planners in a big data and socially networked age.
Frank Hubert from Open Plans believes data sources, methodologies and practices are totally changing for planners. You can passively get data from mobile data streams, check-ins, social networks, city data feeds, transit, etc. We generate millions of data points per minute with direct linkages to space and time in cities. This is the beginning of big data and it will only get bigger.
Cities are attempting to keep up with the data by providing the community with feeds, downloads, PDFs, APIs, and some are even enabling 'read-write' (wiki-style) where citizens can actually help co-edit city data. How do planners not get overwhelmed? That's the question for the next decade. We're missing the 'recipe books' for these data tools.
Lyle works on the IBM foundation’s Smarter Cities Challenge. One of their cities, New Orleans, is still recovering, especially in a planning sense, from Katrina and the huge population flux. Big Data for New Orleans means visibility into hourly, daily, and weekly habits and trends for New Orleans population. A smart city for New Orleans’ mayor is being able to see what's going on and make smarter decisions about future growth.
Jennifer Evans Crowley from Ohio State University's Planning Program related some of the uses of social network big data. One of her colleagues gave workers mobile phones with FourSquare, and asked them to 'check-in' while doing business in the Garment District of New York. Using thousands of check-ins, she was able to influence the land use and zoning plans to help preserve the integrity of the businesses and culture of that district.
In North Carolina, their largest MPO used anonymous cell phone data to examine common transit routes of travelers. Cell phone data is way less expensive and more accurate than large community feedback surveys.
All of the panelists agreed that over the next decade, planners will increasingly need and rely on tools (mostly web-based) to gather and analyze trends in big data. I agree; citizen feedback mechanisms and tools to understand sentiment, location, and influence will be huge components of strong and vibrant community planning processes.
This was a pretty awesome session and I hope you enjoyed my review. If you're at the APA, come have a coffee with me (on me!) over at booth #436. I'll be discussing citizensourcing, the new online method of public participatory planning. Hope to see you!