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A data-driven approach to city building

Yesterday I wrote a post talking about the rise of community involvement in the city planning process and how many people feel that it’s undermining the expertise of trained city planners.

My position is that community participation is only going to become more pronounced and that it’s likely a natural outcome given the internet and what we’re seeing with many other industries.

So instead of lamenting, I think we as city builders need to figure out how to create better frameworks and processes for dealing with the changes that are currently underway.

Because it’s not just community involvement that’s getting in the way of city building, it’s also politics. In too many cases we are allowing self interest to get in the way of rational city building.

But what I was starting to get at yesterday is that as city building becomes more open and transparent, and we find new ways to collect and leverage decentralized data (traffic flows, public space usage, and so on), I think it’ll open up the possibility of a more data-driven approach to city building.

Cities are complex systems and in the past we’ve made a lot of mistakes because our assumptions were incorrect. We assumed, for example, that building more highways would quickly solve congestion. It didn’t.

But with more openness, more transparency, and more data at our disposal, I’m hopeful that we’ll discover countless ways to build better cities. And when that happens, I think we’ll find that the naysayers don’t have as much to say.

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