Noelene Marisa Yesudas (Research Consultant) and Sonali Anushree Patro (Research Analyst)

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Cities are engines of growth, and it has been widely acknowledged that ‘data is the new oil’, essential to sustainably develop and efficiently manage cities. Urban data, especially spatially and temporally disaggregated, is a key to tracking the liveability and sustainability challenges faced by cities. The application of data science and technology can enable effective structuring of various data sets to tackle such urban challenges. The data thus captured can be used for finding solutions to urban challenges in a cost and time efficient manner.

However, data is usually siloed and held in disparate systems by various organisations, departments, etc. City managers and citizens cannot make complete sense and extract the full information from such kind of data. The key to unlock insights from data is to integrate it to bring out various correlations that help understand cities and their challenges. This can further aid in effective and efficient planning and decision making.

For example, by observing traffic pattern and air pollution data from sensors, one can establish interesting correlations of congestion and increase in air pollution. This can help policymakers identify and articulate necessary solutions such as route rationalisation, strengthening public transport, increasing green cover, etc. towards further improving the quality of life.

The Karnataka dashboard showcasing the theme ‘Where is your city growing?’

Data to improve liveability and sustainability in cities

The proof-of-concept (PoC) Urban Observatory developed by CSTEP is one such platform that integrates data for analytics. Recognising the absence of a state/city level, government-owned, multidisciplinary geospatial platform, the PoC collects, curates, and catalogues geospatial and non-spatial data from multiple sources to aid research and urban analytics and inform policy. It combines data science and visualisation techniques to enable more accurate ways of measuring liveability of cities. The Urban Observatory platform for Karnataka comprises of two dashboards, namely Karnataka dashboard and Bengaluru dashboard.

The Karnataka dashboard generates GIS-based visual analysis on the theme ‘Where is your city growing?’ It allows the user to visualise changes in the spatial direction of built-area growth based on the ward-wise building permissions issued in a city over specific time intervals.
The Bengaluru dashboard demonstrates a complete data story on noise pollution under the theme ‘How loud is your city?’ The primary data used in the dashboard has been collected through an Android mobile application developed by CSTEP — ‘Shabda’ — which measures noise levels in a city. This dashboard showcases noise trends and offers analysis and visualisation of noise pollution levels around identified silent zones.

The Proof-of-Concept Urban Observatory platform can be expanded to include other urban themes and replicated for other cities in Karnataka. It can aid policy decisions at different spatial scales such as cities and regions.

Data to empower urban poor communities to better claim urban services

Urban poor communities remain as veritable data black spots for administrators. The existing data is largely top-down and lacks the community’s participation in baseline data generation. Thus policymaking and inclusive urban planning efforts fall short at capturing the transecting challenges faced by the urban poor and marginalised communities. The Sustainable Development Goals (especially 3, 5, 6, and 11) purposes to create inclusive and sustainable cities by enhancing access to urban services by participatory planning.

In this context, CSTEP is developing a proof-of-concept scalable model of a community-owned and -managed spatial platform for G Baiyappanahalli slum in East Bengaluru. The project aims to increase the engagement of the community for better access to urban services, which can thereby increase accountability in urban service provision.

This crowdsourced platform maps priorities in water, sanitation, and health sectors and can support the community towards interpreting data for informed participation in urban governance. A total of 24 young men and women from the community are being trained as ‘data stewards’, and will facilitate the claims making and grievance redressal processes in the community.

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Focus group discussion with key community members in G Baiyappanahalli slum

The potential of data in unlocking cities growth challenges is enormous. Governments, communities, and businesses must work towards active interpretation and governance of data for effective and efficient planning and decision-making. While doing so, it is important to remember that participatory data generation and disaggregated data are keys to effective planning and management of cities. On the other hand, disaggregated data helps track the progress of vulnerable sections. Integration of various data sets reveals patterns and unlocks insights, thus making data ‘actionable.’

CSTEP, through its research and studies, attempts to comprehensively understand and apply collaborative urban analytics to inform policy decisions.

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