Conference on Democratic Innovation (II). Regional planning, transparency and open data

Notes from the conference Conference on Democratic Innovation. Open territories. Rethinking the physical space with the citizens, organized by the Secretary of Transparency and Open Government of the Government of Catalonia, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 November 2019. More notes on this event: territorisoberts2019

Regional planning, transparency and open data
Chairs: Núria Espuny. Directora general de Transparència i Dades Obertes de la Generalitat de Catalunya

Mar Santamaria. Urban planner, 300.000km/s

Can we map cities differently? Instead of just a descriptive mapping based on buildings, roads, rivers, hills… can we map other information such as social or public assets? Yes, we can add layers to maps that include not only morphology, but behaviours, sensations, emotions.

We can, for instance, map electrical consumption in the city at the block level. This can be helpful not only to know where consumption is, but to map poverty and social exclusion by tracking the determinants of specific electricity consumption patterns.

Mapping not only assets, but uses, can be useful to find out how the social contract is being subverted by misuses of formerly agreed public assets.

We can also map last-mile usage of public infrastructures, especially roads and streets. One can plan the city perfectly and find out that e.g. delivery of online purchases destroy all your planning. Mapping the way delivery services work and plan how this is happening can be done by using open data and it is a new way for urban planning.

This is the case of the Use planning of Ciutat Vella (PDF) that mapped the usage or urban assets in the Barcelona district of Ciutat Vella (old downtown). Beyond planning, it deals about looking at citizens as an asset and as an active actor.

And now urban planning is not anymore about making a static diagnosis of the situation, but about having tools for dynamic action.

Under this paradigm, open data are a must. Open data are disclosing a new way of understanding the territory, of acting upon it, of assessing policy-making.

Of course, if (open) data are a must, the governance of (open) data are also a must. Hence, the public/collective governance of data. And this includes, of course, citizen-generated data, not only data generated or published by the Administration.

Miguel Mayorga, Jorge Rodríguez. Architects and urban planners, Mayorga-Fontana.

Architects usually worked depicting things, while engineers usually worked with relationships. Now we can have a strong link between things and their relationships thanks to technology. The word ‘smart’ in ‘smart city’ is not about being smart, but about linking things and their relationships, stocks with flows. The city is made no more of things, but of things that have relationships with things.

Participation is not a trend: it is here to stay. Participation helps to find patterns, to map relationships and behaviours.

Data come from many sources. Some of them are open data generated by the Administration, other are big data generated automatically, other are data than one has to generate with qualitative and quantitative methodologies, such as polling, focus groups, etc. People are good “sensors”: they see, they watch, they reflect, they generate knowledge that can be “queried” with appropriate methodologies and technologies. Participation is about making the best of this “human sensors”, about getting the best from people.

Camil Cofan. Sub-director general for Urban Planning, Generalitat de Catalunya

Four steps in opening up regional planning:

  • 2002: Management of regional planning records (GEU), to better manage documents and initiatives on regional and urban planning.
  • 2007: Catalan register of regional planning (RPUC), to gather and publish all regional and urban plans in Catalonia.
  • 2010: Catalan urban map (MUP), to map all regional and urban interventions.
  • 2017: Open Data.

The strategy on open data aims at being useful both for the Administration and the individual citizens (especially professionals or regional and urban planning). The idea is to have a unique tool that works well for many purposes.

The Observatory of the Territory aims at gathering all data and information on regional planning in a single place.


Ismael Peña-López: What are the incentives that professionals have to be involved in opening data with the Administration? Mar Santamaria: To better understand the data, how they were created, what is their source. Be able to find new ways to apply data, to improve one’s own projects. Miguel Mayorga: Participation is a must and has come to stay. Anyone, Administration and citizens, should acknowledge that. And participation should be mainstreamed, we should learn how to better measure times and timelines, how to map and engage different actors, etc. Technology can help in levelling languages, concepts, etc. between the different actors gathered around a project. Núria Espuny: participation in opening data also helps the Administration to identify the priorities and where the bigger returns are.

Jorge Rodríguez: it is important to involve people before the public decision is made, not after, when we just inform of the decision.


Conference on Democratic Innovation (2019)