A pilot partnership has unlocked new possibilities for the development of Australia’s urban spaces.
Despite being in lockdown, urban strategists in Melbourne were recently able to provide a comprehensive analysis of the community and urban use of Sydney’s Castle Hill without stepping foot onsite.
The task was made possible through a pilot partnership between urban planning and design practice Hatch RobertsDay and global and tech company Neighbourlytics, who have developed a social analytics platform that allows customers to gain dynamic insights into populated spaces.
Analysing digital data sources such as map based-information, business and community pages, rating and reviews and publicly available images, the tech aims to provide a widely accessible view of how places are used, occupied, experienced and valued.
Louise Ford, Melbourne place strategist at Hatch RobertsDay, explained how the recent lockdowns experienced across the country forced the company’s planners to open their minds to remote methods for assessing lived environments.
“Although being able to physically be on site is always our preferred option, while both our Melbourne and Sydney teams were in lockdown and unable to travel, Neighbourlytics’ data allowed us to dive deeper into the characteristics of Castle Hill,” she said.
While Ms Ford acknowledged that they aren’t looking to replace the industry standard of in-person assessments, she stressed how COVID-19 revealed the need for strategists to be nimble for progress to continue despite disruptions. And she added that the tool provided the team with data that might not be possible to glean onsite.
“On-site assessments are still necessary when possible, however remote assessments should be part of the toolbox as it provides evidence-based data to support our insights,” she commented.
In Castle Hill, for example, Neighbourlytics data revealed to the Hatch RobertsDay team that the area had a very high percentage of activity in the centre related to health and wellness and retail and a low level of activity related to food and beverage. Subsequently, their plan focused on mitigating the risk of Castle Hill’s centre becoming a single-use destination where people get in, get their shopping done, and then retire to other localities for their culture and entertainment.
Jessica Christiansen-Franks, founding director of Neighbourlytics, noted that COVID-19 had shifted the way city-makers were having to operate, and while they were embracing technology out of necessity, it had the possibility of revealing details that were often being missed.
“Most place strategies are made without a solid evidence base. There is always data about the physical environment, but when it comes to the social context a lot of the information is subjective and observational,” she said.
“It’s easy for consultancies and developers to make assumptions and not really understand the true context, which is where Neighbourlytics comes in, providing much needed insight and evidence for better decision making.”