Urbanflow Engine – A new tool for Participatory Planning

Participatory planning is difficult because it involves stakeholders from varied backgrounds and technical skills. Therefore, engaging them, having an informed discussion and communication are a major problem. Urbanflow Engine (UFE )which is a decision-making and communication tool can be an answer to this! It helps professionals in city planning departments, non-profit organizations, and private consulting companies. Using Urbanflow Engine, professionals can communicate their project ideas easily to non-technical users and engage them in discussion using an interactive map.

Urbanflow Engine addresses the problems of communication and information sharing in participatory planning process through the use of web based technology. Urbanflow Engine consists of a customizable spatial analysis interface that helps compare different scenarios using user-supplied data and inputs from public data sources. All the analysis is done through a URL and in the browser. The tool aims to inform debates and public consultations around urban planning with data and simple analytical tools. Additionally, the simple controls makes it easy to make changes to assumptions and see the impact on a map. Many existing urban planning tools are very much focused on spreadsheet-based analysis and lack any spatial visualization capabilities. UFE thus fills an important gap by recognizing the importance of spatial analytics and the additional public and stakeholder communications needs for decisions related to urban infrastructure that affect large numbers of people.

The clear, user-friendly visualizations in UFE belie the complex, yet transparent analyses done by the tool.  With a focus on simplicity and ease of use, UFE introduces sophisticated internet technology into the world of urban planning.

The foundational research for the tool started at MIT, and over the last two years it has been developed to a state-of-the-art simulation and modeling technology that will enable users to visualize the flow of people, products, and vehicles in an urban environment through the infrastructure network comprising roads, depots, stations, etc. It enables import of open data in addition to self-creation of models based on user inputs to visualize scenarios for urban Waste and Transportation sectors. Users can create “experiments” or scenarios for analysis, which provide important insights for policy making and planning at a relatively low cost with all the advantages of a web-based environment.

As a part of the initial trials of the tool and a study was conducted on a waste management network analysis in India. The aim was to understand and analyze the existing network and explore improvements in collection and resource efficiency. This study was done as a part of a student’s Master’s thesis in association and help from the local government. Khandwa is a town in the Nimar region of Madhya Pradesh, India and it is the administrative headquarters of Khandwa District.  The student studied and built the waste collection network of twenty two bins. A proposal to increase collection efficiency was to add a transfer station to act as an intermediate collection point. Traditionally, to solve such problems, the planner would have to use a combination of Excel and mapping / routing technologies and PowerPoint to present, compile and analyze data. Also this type of analysis is difficult to communicate to non-technical users. With a web base interface that was simple and easy to understand controls, one was able to present this information to local authorities and have a discussion about it.Image

Network Comparisons through UFE

Urbanflow Engine is a new communication and analysis tool for Urban Planning projects. With the goal to make urban planning information accessible to non-technical users, it is very simple to get started for free, completely web based and can be reached at www.urbanflowengine.com. Urbanflow Engine is founded by a small team of planning professionals led by Hrishikesh Ballal, currently a PhD student at University College London’s Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis and you can contact him at hrishi@urbanflowengine.com. You can find out more about him at www.hrishikeshballal.net. Contact  Hrishikesh for doing pilot studies or giving your feedback!


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