Urban Analytics for Placemaking

How will decoding locations allows us to understand the way a place functions to design better cities?

Like Cities, urban places are problems in organized complexity

While cities have been and continue to be the greatest invention in human history, they often fail to fulfil the needs and nurture the aspirations of most urban inhabitants. This is not intentional. It is the result of the historical and dynamic interplay of a large collection of many small systems that operate at multiple scales, from global to local, which make up a large complex system[1]. Under this lens, cities are a collection of interdependent places interacting with each other under certain rules that make them function. Understanding those rules is what we call Place Intelligence.

Place Intelligence

Every place has its own singularities. A key challenge for designing high quality places is to identify which are the pertinent parameters that influence the way a place sets off, thrives, and evolve. To deal with such challenge, designers have an arsenal of technological tools. Data streams, for example, can facilitate decoding the way a place functions, However, data also reinforces the complex nature of cities with implications not only in the understanding of urban problems but also in the design processes. We think that the attention should not be placed in the tools but in how the tools can enable analytical insights into design processes. This requires a particular mindset or way of thinking that we refer to as urban analytics.

Designing with data: the urban analytics approach

Urban data is the raw material in our design process. To reveal meaningful patterns from data that tell the story about how cities function we apply quantitative, computational, design and visualisation methods, defined as urban analytics[2]. These set of methods and tools not only allow us thinking and operating across spatial and temporal scales but also iterate, learn fast, experiment and innovate, which are crucial steps for an effective design process. The support that urban analytics provides for being creative and experimental put us in an advantageous position to make the links between analysis and local context, form and function, technology with environment, and philosophy of design with practice. We speculate that the paradigm shift in urban design and planning is imminent. From a static ‘predict and provide’ approach to a dynamic ‘decide and provide’, which is in tune with the times and fast paced evolution of places. The emphasis is on creating new places with character. Not so much in trying to forecast future behaviours since, like complex systems, cities and places behave organically and evolve and adapt in unpredictable ways.

Understanding user behaviours, culture, and context

The use of data can play a significant role in the way cities are designed by providing valuable insights about people’s choices and interactions. Making this process more data-driven allows for urbanists and architects to have a more holistic approach to development of the built environment. By taking into consideration the ever-changing way we interact with cities, the urban planning processes becomes more open for participation and by consequence more people driven. A process that is often developed by a few minds, can start to become more democratic and diverse. However, this does not come without any drawbacks. It is crucial to approach any data analytical process with a critical eye. Not only because urban analytics has intrinsic limits into decoding human behaviour but also because of potential biases in the way data is collected and analysed. If carelessly, data and data analytics can continue perpetuating existing power imbalances and social injustice[3]. Therefore, taking into consideration cultural and social context to scrutinise the way data is collected and analysed, plus always being mindful of the ethics of data collection and privacy, are crucial for this new way of approaching city planning. 

Placemaking for city resilience

Urban analytics builds upon the idea of placemaking as it provides people-driven insights into the use of public space and the effectiveness of urban planning initiatives. This mindset can also inform the design process to make cities more liveable, inclusive, and resilient cities. By taking upon an approach that is flexible, agile, and data-driven, we allow ourselves to think of placemaking in a way that will respond to our fast-paced evolving world. Making cities not only more resilient but also open to the change that is yet to come.


Figure 1: A graphic of what we do

Figure 2. An iconic diagram of our thinking



[1] Alexander, C. (1965). A city is not a tree. Architectural Forum, 122(1, 2).
[2] Batty, M. (2019). Urban analytics defined. Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science, 46(3), 403–405
[3]  Klein, L.F. and D’Ignazio, C. (2020) Data feminism. S.I.: MIT Press.