Economic Value of Urban Data Analysis

Cities are collecting and studying a variety of data points to help planners understand how urban form and design directly impacts growth and sustainability

What Happened?

Cities are adjusting their designs and land use based on data analysis of social and economic activity. Collecting and studying a variety of data points is helping planners understand how urban form and design directly impacts growth and sustainability.

City Form Lab

City Form Lab researchers recently looked at the commercial landscape in Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts to identify how the layout of certain businesses related to economic performance. The study combined economic analysis and the effects urban design to explain business successes and failures.

According to the study, many business owners have limited empirical data to explain business performance. By identifying trends in city layout and economic activity, cities can create policies to foster successful business districts in the long term.

The study analyzed pedestrian accessibility to the businesses from various origins including:

  • Home
  • Work
  • Other businesses
  • Public transit hubs

The researchers also took into account how much foot traffic each business location experienced, vacancy levels of nearby buildings, width or roads and sidewalks and location of the business on a street. The study revealed businesses in large buildings located on street corners surrounded by wide sidewalks have a high likelihood of performing well. The business should also be along a common daily route for pedestrians – such as between their homes and workplaces.

The researchers recommend cities not only adjust zoning regulations to better serve local business growth based on empirical data, but also widen sidewalks and extend public transit options to reach more destinations.

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology collected extensive data on residents’ behaviors as they interact with various components of the city back in 1994. The data collected was then handed off to Melbourne’s city planners to help guide decision making to improve quality of life for residents. Once changes were made, the researchers collected data again to identify the impact, Next City reported.

Since the launch of this program, the city continues to collect and analyze residential activity data and make incremental improvements based on the findings. Between 1994 and 2004, public spaces in Melbourne increased by 71 percent, while cafes and restaurants tripled. Pedestrian traffic, in response, increased from 43,000 to 81,000 per day in the city center.

Furthermore, the city was able to stay open longer as nocturnal pedestrian activity doubled during the 10-year period. When residents are active at night, businesses can extend hours of operations and crime levels tend to drop.

The overall goal of the project was to encourage urban planners to make major decisions based on human behavior data so policies were designed with people in mind, not just infrastructure. The 2014 survey of Melbourne activity indicates even more expansion in residential and commercial activity into nights and weekends for increased economic growth.

Pedestrian Data

Gov1 has reported on several pedestrian-focused initiatives including the analysis of resi dent data to strengthen policy decision making.

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