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Good Data Makes Good Cities

Cities have always been products of group innovation and collaboration. Teams of planners, designers, builders, and residents work together to build liveable neighbourhoods and strong communities. But we’re not building fast enough.  

In Canada, rising population growth is creating a pressing need to create more liveable neighbourhoods at a faster pace. To meet this demand, we need to make planning decisions easier. The housing sector and the public sector need to work hand-in-hand to deliver desperately needed housing outcomes. 

Collaboration is critical in urban planning not just to create the right policies and processes, but so that the needs of the residents are met. In order to build great communities, collaboration must be focused on data: when all parties look at common sets of data, risk is reduced, decision-making becomes more transparent, and both the housing sector and municipalities can take confident action. 

A continuous circle with the word Data in the middle and four photos in each corner representing city departments, a planner, a developer and a consultant.

However, the reality is that a lot of important data is inaccessible, and this siloed approach has limited the country’s progress in increasing housing supply. Without access to good data, city builders cannot make informed decisions about how and where to build; accessible data decreases bias from human intervention, enables faster communication, and ultimately improves the transparency in decision-making. Canada needs equitable data accessibility, so that good data can be a strong foundation on which to build cities.  

More informed insights

Ratio.City helps both municipalities and the housing sector access important data to make housing development more effective, efficient, and informed. Monika Jaroszonek, Managing Director, Planning & Housing, expands on how an ecosystem for collaborative planning can support Canada’s goals in housing: 

“Development is resource intensive. The economics need to make sense so that builders can build more. The faster they know on which land to develop and what they’re allowed to build, the better it is for the public.”  

Monika continues, “Cities create and manage all the information about their own lands but finding it may be harder than you think. Some data is in spreadsheets or databases, others in various types of reports across departments or legacy file formats.   

“Centralizing planning data, making it available to the private sector, and then offering the ability to analyze and make sense of the information has never been easy for municipalities. The housing sector needs to analyze a potential site, understand the existing urban context and infrastructure, project for future community amenity needs, and optimize for number of units and density, all while delivering an economically viable project. Our technologies can help connect these needs together.   

“Planning doesn’t have to be simplified. Cities are complex and planning for the future deserves deeper analysis and transparency. We believe that the process of finding data can be simplified. In our work with our users, we’ve helped significantly to narrow the data gap and deliver actionable insights to get them faster to the approvals stage with cities.”  

Ratio.City screenshot of a Toronto map with a circle around an area listing the site attributes and size. There are captions around the graphic showing that it can help users explore, locate and develop land.

Eliminate barriers to data access

To accelerate housing development, good planning data needs to be accessible so that the housing sector can do their due diligence, identify potential sites, perform sensitivity analysis, and produce good quality preliminary design proposals and applications. This site-specific analysis hinges on understanding a city’s long-range planning goals and policies. So, let’s explore what governments can do to meet their housing goals and mandates.   

  1. Connect to existing data systems: Municipal planning staff create policy data and plans within their departments, which can be connected and analyzed across the whole organization. Leveraging their existing ArcGIS technologies, such as ArcGIS Online, governments can connect their planning data regionally across the province and country, allowing developers to tap into a comprehensive data network directly from the source.A graphic showing three components. The left shows individual icons. The middle shows a bubble representing the organization. The right shows many organizations with lines connecting these organizations representing a network of organizations.
  2. Enrich planning datasets: Real estate developers and their professional consultants benefit from data that governments and their partners manage. This data describes the current planning policies, precedents, and existing built-form, as well as the future vision for cities based on housing mandates and growth strategies. Spatial data can be made more valuable with associated attribute data, such as non-spatial information like population statistics, demographic characteristics, and economic indicators. This type of data provides a more comprehensive understanding of the needs of a neighbourhood. Providing both spatial and attribute data within a centralized GIS hub allows the private sector to gain closer alignment on the short- and long-term goals of cities.
  3. Make it easier to locate information: The current planning process is disconnected: multiple municipal departments and decision-makers are involved, each with their own record-keeping systems. Moreover, changes to files and plans are isolated from other organizations. Where would a developer know to look? Facilitating data sharing in a connected environment – many systems feeding into a common repository – across all levels of government can help to ensure that decisions are made more efficiently, reducing costs in development and optimizing resource allocation. For example, checking the progress on permits or housing approvals on a map will enable faster data gathering and allow for consistent reporting of housing outcomes. These maps and dashboards can be embedded in websites and provide regional, provincial, or even national analytics.

Canada needs to accelerate development processes to support achieving our housing targets. For planning practices to move at the speed that we need them to, we need to enable collaboration between the housing sector and municipalities. Data transparency and ease of access will bring down current barriers and increase trust.     

To learn more, visit and attend our live webinar on Housing Solutions on April 16, 2024.

About the Author

Desmond Khor works with multi-industry stakeholders to connect stories with opportunities. As a Marketing Manager at Esri Canada, Desmond is helping to build a stronger, more connected community around technology and the business capabilities of location intelligence.

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