URBS data project – new digital tools for regional planning

Digital tools provide several means of facilitating the work of planners and decision-makers in regional planning. Visualisation is much more effective at enabling interaction than traditional printed material. The opportunities presented by digital tools were explained at an event, entitled “Making Kera a trailblazer”, held by the URBS data*) project in Otaniemi at the end of May. *)  Data integration and knowledge co-creation for smart urban development 

Kera, an area situated between Kauniainen and Leppävaara in Espoo, is known as an industrial area. However, in just a few years, the old factories and warehouses have begun to transform into an urban residential and employment centre for approximately 14,000 residents.

Espoo wants results quickly. An outline of a town plan for Kera has been drawn up, covering an area of 80 hectares, and the first town plan proposals will be completed this year. The outline area will provide for over 530,000 m2 of gross floor area for housing, and 147,000 m2 of gross floor area for commercial and business premises.

At the beginning of the year, Kera was selected as the pilot site for the URBS project (“Data integration and knowledge co-creation for smart urban development”), which began in autumn 2016 and will finish at the end of summer.

The research project has a budget of EUR 54 million, and it has given rise to new operating models and tools for regional development. The partners in the project are the City of Espoo, Sitowise, A-Insinöörit, Tridify, Bonava, Aihio Arkkitehdit, ACRE, Business Finland and Aalto University.

At the end of May, the partners in the project, key operators in Kera, landowners, developers and designers met with representatives of the City of Espoo in Otaniemi at a former VTT laboratory, which has been converted into a collaborative platform known as the Urban Mill, to hear how new digital operating methods could be utilised in the Kera development, as well as on regional development projects more widely.

Brave new Kera

According to Aija Staffans, a Senior Research Fellow at Aalto University and the manager responsible for the project, Kera was selected as the project’s pilot site because it is the glue that binds together the technical solutions offered by the project. “Kera is a good place to reflect the functionality of these.”

“Kera is an interesting regional development site to study. It is naturally a good start to have an outline town plan drawn up. We can then flesh out the plan together. However, the land is owned by several different parties. This is a challenge but, at the same time, we will be able to seek out and test various partnership models to drive regional development forwards together,” Aija Staffans explains.

“The intention during the town planning phase is to get every operator, landowner and stakeholder to work together to develop the area and realise the objectives set by the City to turn an old industrial zone into a pleasant and functional residential area,” says Tiina Piiroinen, Regional Architect. 

The entire planning area is too large to manage as a single entity, so it has been divided into three areas for the purpose of town planning.

Putting data to use

The benefits of digital design tools on regional development projects were highlighted by the demonstrations of the Kera pilot project. The characteristic challenges of regional development projects: large amounts of data and entities that are difficult to comprehend must be brought under control, and it must be possible to present them in the form of clear, visually appealing 3D models that can be examined by the designers themselves, as well as other operators, decision-makers, stakeholders and residents.

The project manager, Pia-Sofia Pokkinen, presented a map-based survey entitled “Visions of Kera’s central blocks”, created in April using Mapita. Respondents were able to use drawing tools to give their opinions on matters such as the construction phases in Kera.

The impact of phasing on the increase in the value of blocks in Kera from 2020 to 2035 is relatively easy to assess on A-Insinöörit’s Cityfier digital land use planning service, which makes use of open geolocation, city survey and house sale advertising data.

“The service enables various land use solutions to be compared, and it quickly provides a calculated estimate of the development of the area’s value based on a multi-variable model. The tool was designed for municipalities, landowners and service providers,” says Jukka Kettunen, manager of the city and property development unit at A-Insinöörit.

Sitowise’s Louhi service is ideal for managing data on large infrastructure projects. On regional development projects, area-specific data, such as the outline town plan, local town plans, spatial data, land use and transport planning data, is entered into the service. The overall picture remains up-to-date based on feedback, project data and information for specific design disciplines.

One of the best features of the Louhi service is the effortless ability to visualise spatial data in a form that is easy for decision-makers and residents to interpret. “A 3D map is much more illustrative than a conventional printed map. It is important to remember that not every citizen is an expert in spatial data,” says Pia Niemi, an expert in communication and interaction at Sitowise.

Spatial data can be analysed from several perspectives and, best of all, it can also be accessed in the field on a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Senior Designer Jarkko Männistö demonstrated how the Louhi service visualised the areas that will be built according to the phases provided by Mapita’s survey on the central blocks in Kera.

Juhani Korpinen took the audience on a journey into the future to look at the construction of the Bonava block with the help of the Tridify Building Creation Tool. The 3D views of the block changed when various alternatives were selected for the gross floor area or the weighting allocated to parkland.

Developing regions intelligently

The digital tools created by the URBS research project have demonstrated their usefulness and interoperability on the Kera pilot project. This will be vital for the intelligent regional development of the future.

The digitalising areas of regional development and urban planning and design, will increasingly focus on interaction and working together. Future trends will be partnership town planning and user-oriented design.

But what are intelligent urban design and regional development in reality? According to the people who came to Urban Mill, it will become possible to avoid many of the problems that currently arise in regional development. For example, services are already included in the plan, and the client company builds them as well as the municipal infrastructure. The execution time is short so that nobody needs to live on a construction site.

The outcome is an energy-efficient, environmentally-certified urban district.

Text: Dakota Lavento