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Challenges of spatial decision-support tools in urban planning: Lessons from New Zealand’s cities

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Urban planning decision-makers face wicked problems and are required to make complex decisions regarding the functioning of cities.

Spatial decision-support tools (SDSTs) have the potential to change the way decisions are being made and play an important role in shaping future cities. Yet decision-makers experience challenges around SDSTs. This article analyzes what lessons can be drawn for the wider community from New Zealand’s urban planning context and SDSTs developed for New Zealand’s cities on (1) how SDSTs might influence decision-making; (2) what the challenges are toward the appropriate adoption of spatial tools; and (3) how data, technical, and procedural issues may influence the adoption of SDSTs in planning practices. It contributes an integrated view, drawing from literature on complex systems, theories of sociotechnical interactions, and synoptic planning practices based on engagement, and a survey of urban planning stakeholders. The key challenges identified are around technological and user subjectivity and tailored recognition of local contexts. These can be addressed through flexible SDSTs developed with stakeholder engagement and by viewing SDSTs in a wider, spatial sociotechnical system to fully leverage their potential and ensure improved urban outcomes accounting for the local context.

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