Jun 19, 2018 Andrew Arnold
Today over a half of the world’s population lives within urban centers. Considering this and growing populations overall, urban planners have a difficult task ahead of them. They must plan and grow transportation networks and other developments accordingly. The success of any urban initiative heavily depends on the prior knowledge about the area and its inhabitants. In particular, planners should understand several things:
- How citizens are currently using city resources
- How they would like to use them
- The challenges citizens are facing regarding the resources available to them and their quest to save money in their homes
It turns out that social media could be a source of valuable data for urban planners to gather that kind of information. The posts submitted via Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare and other similar social media platforms are frequently geo-tagged. This could prove to be quite useful to planners who can use this data to determine how urban resources are being used. Not only is this data useful, there’s a lot of it:
- 60 million photos are sent via Instagram daily
- 500 million Tweets are sent out daily
- 8 million check-ins occur via Swarm app
Even better, unlike sources such as cell phone data, this information is less problematic in terms of privacy. As long as posts are available to the public, collecting data from them doesn’t raise the concerns other forms of collection have.
How urban planning can benefit from social data
The social platforms mentioned above are each known as a LBSN (Location Based Social Network). Each provides a means for users to include location information in their posts and conversations. There are other LBSNs: Yelp, Google Places, Facebook Places, Flickr, and UrbanSpoon qualify as well as many dating and ‘hookup’ apps.
People who use these apps are continually broadcasting information about where they are and what they are doing. This gives urban planners data on where people are gathering and what resources they are using in any given time.
For example, social data was leveraged to understand land use in three major metropolitan areas—London, Manhattan and Madrid. Based on the aggregated and analyzed check-ins, researchers could categorize land used f0r business, daytime leisure, nightlife and residential activities.
This information can be used to draw intelligent conclusions on what services may be needed in given areas within a city at a given time. For example, a series of blocks with a large number of geolocated check-ins on Foursquare and Urbanspoon in the evenings would likely be highlighted as a high nightlife use area.
Urban planners can then use this information to improve existing services or plan for new services in the area. This can include the placement and planning of police patrol routes, police substations, fire and ambulance services and public transportation.
The data collected from LBSN networks can be used in combination with other data as well. Publicly available data from police and emergency service records, and even traffic data, can help planners understand if an area is struggling with crime, crowding, traffic flow issues or natural disasters which may affect supply chain management or peaceful urban living. Data such as complaints collected from residents about usage issues is also important. For example, residents may be dissatisfied that public transportation isn’t available later in the evenings, or with an overall lack of cleanliness due to a large amount of activity in an area.
Of course, urban planners don’t have to use this data solely to mitigate problems. This information can be used to find opportunities to create growth as well. For example, an area that has a large amount of day recreation use may be an ideal place to plan for a recreation center or even hotel development to draw out-of-town visitors.
“Sustainability is a concern in city planning. Urban planners cannot just plan to have needed resources available,” said Young Kim, CEO of CyClean. “They must also ensure that they are developed and delivered in ways that prioritize efficient energy use and lower pollution. This data can be used to help prioritize sustainable development projects.”