Supporting geospatial decisions

Urban planning is complex. How do you address population growth in cities without degrading the local environment, while promoting social and environmental sustainability, liveability, health, and wellbeing? Decisions should be informed from the current evidence for better social, environmental, and economic outcomes at the city and neighbourhood scales.

However, planners face the challenge of having to comply with planning processes and regulations which don’t necessarily have an integrated approach to environmental, social, and economic assessment of planning and regeneration scenarios. There are also significant pressures to urban transformation, with the rise of national and transnational standards and neoliberalism which can see business interests directly influence local development decisions at the expense of other considerations.

Adding to this complexity, there is a lack of geospatial tools to support planners in evidence-based decisions, or to support the visualisation of planning and regeneration scenarios to involve other people, such as decision-makers, developers, iwi, and resident communities.

A Building Better research team, Professor Simon Kingham and Dr Rita Dionisio-McHugh from the University of Canterbury and Dr Mirjam Schindler, from Victoria University of Wellington, have developed two ‘spatial decision-support tools’ (SDST) to support planning practitioners in assessing, comparing, examining, and visualising the trade-offs of regeneration scenarios, and build business-cases to advocate for alternative approaches to sustainable urban regeneration.

Mirjam says the first tool they developed, called Envision, is a map-based tool which helps identify suitable areas for urban regeneration. It uses demographic and property-level data. The second tool, Envision Scenario Planner (ESP), is a free, web-based geo-spatial planning tool that focuses on the environmental and socio-economic assessment of regeneration scenarios at the neighbourhood scale.

“Using observations from implementing these SDSTs in diverse planning authorities, we were able to analyse the influence of local specificities and appropriate collaboration models to develop and adopt the tools for decision-making and community engagement. We have some recommendations for future development of the tools to reinforce collaborative planning and local governance within urban regeneration processes.”

“Stakeholder engagement was a key component of this research, and we worked with a number of planning authorities to assess the suitability and usability of the geospatial tools and identify areas for improvement considering local specific needs and priorities across the country.”

The ESP tool was nominated as one of three finalists for the 2018 New Zealand Spatial Excellence Awards. The tool received high praise for the way it embeds sustainability at every level. It also featured in Architecture NowDesigned to disrupt: A digital tool for urban regeneration.

Read the research

Schindler M., Dionisio R. & Kingham S. (2020). Challenges of Spatial Decision-Support Tools in Urban Planning: Lessons from New Zealand’s Cities. Journal of Urban Planning and Development, 146, 2, 223-252. DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)UP.1943-5444.0000575

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Date posted: 24 February 2021