1. Economics
October 28, 2016

Here are three apps which are involving everyone in city-planning

By Salome Mamasakhlisi

Cities work best when everyone works together – but putting this into practice can be tricky.

Could apps have the answer? Here are three examples for any budding city-planners out there.

Prospecting for sunlight

If you like Pokémon Go and saving the planet, then you’ll love the new “Look Up” app from the carbon-cutting charity 10:10.

Launched in September 2016, this nation-wide app asks users to spot rooftops with a potential to host solar panels. There are even prizes for those who log the largest solar potential before 30 October.

Image: Look Up.

“Taking action on climate change doesn’t have to be a matter of graphs, grids, floods and dying polar bears,” said Alice Bell, the head of communications at 10:10. “It can be a playful, adventurous re-imagining of how we design our futures.”

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By documenting your chosen roof’s orientation and the shade around it, walkers can tackle the issue of untapped solar capacity. 10:10 will then create a national Look Up database from users’ data – with the potential to be a kind treasure-map for app users and for city planners alike.

Permanent route planning

The Strava app gives cyclists and pedestrians an opportunity to help design new bike lanes. By tracking your runs and rides via GPS, the website allows you to compare your journey times and distances to other users. 

It also records your data, and transportation planners can then access Strava Metro for a deep analysis of cyclist and pedestrian activity. This helps them assess the effectiveness of the traffic control already in place, and work out where best to place new lanes.

Image: Strava.

Vast amounts of money and time are wasted by the current methods used to count cyclists. Videotaping traffic while someone sits beside the monitor has proven to be awfully time consuming, while battery-operated bike counters only provide data for one location. 

But, claims co-founder Michael Horvath, “Strava Metro has the potential to provide the answers”.

Collaborative infrastructure

Planning urban infrastructure used to be a top-down process. Information flowed almost entirely in one-direction: planners produced a package of work, then handed it off to the architects, and never spoke to them again. Architects did the same, handing their work onto the engineers, and so on down the line.

Image: Podaris.

Podaris’s cloud-based platform was developed to change that: to ensure that everyone directly or indirectly involved in producing a project is on the same page and up-to-date.

The firm’s founder Nathan Koren argues that projects that involve people with “diverse interests making changes to it on a daily basis” need effective collaboration in order to work together in a cohesive fashion. His app, he claims, does just that: enabling real-time collaboration with anyone in the world, and shortening feedback cycles “from months to milliseconds”.

Salome Mamasakhlisi is an intern at the New Statesman. 

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