PlanTech Explained

What do you need to know?

You’ve probably heard of ‘PropTech’ - technology for the property sector. As well as FinTech, EdTech, HealthTech, RealTech - technology for the financial, education and health services and real estate industries respectively. But what about PlanTech?

PlanTech is a developing field of practice for emerging technologies and digital innovation for how we plan and design cities. It emcompasses data analytics, digitisation, automation and AI, specifically regarding land use planning, community engagement, urban planning design, approval processes and transportation. The UK’s Connected Places Catapult (formerly Future Cities Catapult) has spearheaded the term, recognising the need for an online platform and community to advance technology for better places.

Unlike ‘Smart Cities’, which is an umbrella term for all UrbanTech and PropTech which is limited to the property sector, PlanTech focuses on technology to create better places. It aims to solve the complex and integrated city planning and design problems. This is a multi-billion dollar industry - last year in the United States alone there was more funding invested in UrbanTech than in BioTech and pharmaceuticals, making this sector ripe for innovation.

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Why do we need PlanTech?

Urban planning and design is still a largely manual process that requires synthesising vast amounts of complex information about zoning, land use, community engagement and environmental systems.

Let’s take a look at the data collection side - accessing the basic information is a skill in itself. If you’ve ever tried to download the type of material that makes sense of planning schemes, you’ll know what I mean. For more complex projects dozens of long technical reports are compiled by separate consultants and pieced together through a long winded manual process. This is immensely time consuming, for one, but also creates a level of exclusivity as the documents are difficult to access and interpret.  

Now, let’s take a look at the synthesis side - after consuming large volumes of paperwork, recommendations and interpretations are made based on expert opinion, rather than evidence. There is a level of evidence, of course, based on what worked in the past or best practice case studies from around the world. Although these are great starting points, they don’t help predict the result of the new project which has a new, particular set of circumstances that are particular to that site. Expert opinion is incredibly valuable, but comes with heavy bias - upbringing, cultural background, personal preferences and ideology of the individual, all come into play.

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Is PlanTech just another fad, or here to stay?

Buzz words come and ago, but the use of technology to improve, automate and ultimately disrupt the planning sector, is certainly here to stay.

We have made the following predictions about how urban planning will be disrupted by PlanTech over the next decade:

  • Transparent online access to information. Planning schemes have been online for decades now, but historically they have been hard to find. Platforms like UrbanFootprint and LandChecker help start this process by visualising this information.

  • Effective community feedback through real-time online tools. SnapSendSolve enables you to report issue in real-time.

  • Data-based decision making is the new norm. Data analytics make it possible to synthesise the enormous volumes of manual information about places and amalgamate new solutions - we won’t only rely on expert opinions.

  • Predictive analytics allows new insights and collaborations: New data sets and predictive analytics capability allow new insights to be made about particular places.

  • Advanced analytics and AI will disrupt consulting. A decade from now we believe that the role of urban planners won’t be to define the solutions, but to create the parameters for computer vision and machine learning to predict a range of scenarios.

Since Neighbourlytics launched we have created social data for neighbourhoods across Australia and around the world. We now have an opportunity to move beyond descriptive analytics, towards diagnostic and predictive products.

If the purpose of planning is to positively change the lives of people in different communities, then having access to this technology is a really wonderful thing. This is technology that has a meaningful impact and also delivers on the economic bottom line. Imagine the problems we could solve if we truly understood the people within each neighbourhood?

Lucinda Hartley

I’m an urban designer and social entrepreneur who has spent the past decade pioneering innovative methods to improve the social sustainability of cities, now being implemented around the world. 

As a co-founder at Neighbourlytics, I bring my social innovation and entrepreneurship strengths to harness big data, and deliver community insights that inform evidence-based urban development decisions. Neighbourlytics is backed by BlueChilli Group’s highly competitive She Starts program.