VUCITY  11 58 10 AM 10 31 2018

Urban futures: Fresh ways to look at a city

One of the clearly emerging benefits of modern property methods is the set of tools and techniques for looking at cities. Assessing sites, measuring economies and mapping data has never been easier. Join us for a walk through some of the ways you can check out a potential market.

SITE SELECTION. The most obvious area to start with is the best-in-class property data specialists such as LandInsight, Nimbus Maps, REalyse and Datscha which are combining beautiful design with easy-to-use functionality and a broad mix of datasets. Yes, much of the information is available publicly but if they’ve done the hard work you would be better off just using it rather than holding onto your money but not getting the work done anywhere near as easily or quickly.

Add-ons such as MASS Reports can help sharpen focus and produce feasibility studies cheaply and in a quicker turnaround than most planners and architects could manage. GeoPhy is pioneering data-driven automated valuations in seconds that it says outperforms conventional valuers.

MARKET FORECAST. Placemake describes itself as an operating system for the urban landscape. In practice the applications for developers and investors include using signals of where and when to buy, hold, or sell, understanding the drivers of capital, rental value and growth in a site; exploring a unified data platform to pull the most relevant and powerful data for any question, uncovering deep patterns, correlations, and signals to understand the market; forecasting trends and asset or portfolio performance to understand how a place or an asset changes over time.

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Sample from Centric Lab’s forthcoming Stress Risk Score generator

HEALTH + WELLBEING. The Centric Lab has used neuroscience research to build a geospatial tool that diagnoses cities and built environments from a biological lens. Using this hyper-local information it assesses impacts to health, wellbeing, and performance across a variety of demographics. These insights and subsequent advice help built environment companies make better decisions early on and get closer to catering for future human needs. Josh Artus, co-founder, says: “Our team of scientists work to ethically map, correlate and refine urban and environmental data through continual research in order to build more realistic future models. Mapping people’s urban footprints from a biological lens can close the existing knowledge gaps in health, wellbeing and workplace performance. It’s all related, we’re now shedding light in a practical way to start solving problems and making better places.” Centric Lab works with Lendlease, Grosvenor Americas, MAPP, and Trilogy among others. The tool is ready for use now and they’re planning to create a stand alone web based product in the near future.

DIGITAL MODELING. The masters at this are VU.CITY, among the more household names in the property technology scene, and becoming part of the local planning authority landscape as councils start to require a VU.CITY model with a planning application. As the system becomes more easy to access through the cloud – previously it required a hard drive version and was not as portable – the take-up should accelerate.

SHARING. Different people took the question of looking at cities in different ways, especially when moving from looking at to working in a city. Anne Wernand, behavioural researcher at Netherlands-based Mapiq explained what it meant to her. “For us, this comes down to being able to share. Cities are naturally designed to be sharing economies where resources are shared and not owned due to space constraints and the population density of urban living. This makes sharing of offices one of the most important characteristics of smart cities. Flex-, activity-based or ‘new way of working’ are the keywords in the revolution of space sharing, meaning that employees are given the power to choose when and where they work, either in the office or from other locations in the city. The new way of work can be seen as the first step towards sharing our cities in the most effective, social way. First, we share desks, then offices, buildings and before you know it people are able to efficiently use all structures in the city in a smart, flexible and ad-hoc manner. Office spaces that are designed to support this flexible work and maximise utilisation (think about coworking spaces) will become even more prominent in the upcoming years when we are trying to use our precious city spaces in the most efficient way.

Wernand continues: “This sharing economy is driven by enabling innovative technologies of digital connectivity. Smart office platforms support this type of sharing and encourage people to use spaces, within and between companies, in the most efficient and flexible way. Real-time information and knowledge gathered by multiple systems and hardware are key to tackling the inefficient use of under-utilised assets. Connectivity provides a foundation of these innovations in the sense that it allows citizens to easily communicate about and share spaces. The biggest challenge here is that we have to make sure all the systems get connected. The key to success lies in exploring new ways of thinking and the creation of partnerships of companies and other organisations such as governments willing to work together to create smart cities.”

TBG Mallcomm Screen

ENGAGEMENT. Similarly, digital tools for consulting and communicating open up the potential for greater levels of engagement in existing city markets. Michelle Buxton, founder and CEO of Toolbox Group, creator of the Mallcomm community management and engagement technology, explains: “We’re increasingly working with BIDs and city destinations who are using technology to support successful partnerships to strengthen city brands.

For example, Chelmsford BID, One Chelmsford, is able to communicate with as many as 10,000 people through our Mallcomm app. Not only does it facilitate good placemaking through better communication and streamlining of community services, but it can also really help to build loyalty among all the city’s users and provide essential insight to make better business decisions.”

VISUALISATION. Vik Tara, a prolific technology investor, has backed companies including PropCo, which helps estate agents manage their work. He comments: “When appraising any location it’s all about data and the interrogation of data. As technology gets more sophisticated, it is really so much easier now to get the management information that drives this kind of analysis and thus drive revenues and maximise efficiencies. Increasingly we are seeing lettings agents who use the PropCo software platform making the most of data visualisation tools to make assessments on the geographies they are working in and where they should place their focus on. Big data is visually represented through charts, graphs and maps to show all sorts of information: from cities and towns on the rise in terms of popularity through to price hikes and dips and even hotspots within cities and towns. This can be as detailed and layered as the agents want it to be. It’s useful for any size of company and the most accessible way to see and understand trends and patterns in data. Recently we have analysed PropCo data to show the geographical spread of properties let by agency brand. This helped to determine where a company that has competing brands can avoid duplicating efforts in the same geographical area. Other trends that can be seen include geographical hotspots of property maintenance and costs – helping to drive more efficiencies as data visualisation can show where an agent spends a disproportionate amount of time managing their properties for example in dilapidated areas. So, importantly for developers, PropCo can visualise rental data across the country and draw trends between that data and land values to determine hot spots for people wanting to ‘build to rent’.”

REGULATORY CHECKS. Mapping anything seems possible nowadays including the driest and most important factors such as planning policies and regulations. Cindy McLaughlin, CEO of Envelope, which does just that, says: “Knowledge is power. The more quickly you get accurate information, the better positioned you’ll be to make real estate decisions. Looking at a new city, or revisiting one you’re already in, requires an understanding of the regulatory landscape to know where opportunities exist for your unique needs. Zoning and planning are inherently local, and for most very large cities, highly complex and quirky.

She adds: “Given the velocity at which real estate moves, and the financial impact of even a single deal, it’s also critical to be able to interpret the regulation quickly and accurately. Tech-enabled professional zoning services, which combine more accurate data and calculations with the real-world experience of a local expert, are a great way to get better information, faster, and at a lower cost.

“Ultimately, citizens should always be able to understand and easily comply with the rules that govern them — including the development potential of their cities.  Whether cities start to invest in the accuracy and utility of their own regulatory information, or private companies like Envelope take the lead, technology will start to simplify that which is otherwise far too complex.”

  • If you would like to join our editorial call-out list for forthcoming features please email Paul Unger, editor, at


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