Children and families are often overlooked when cities do urban planning. However, an initiative from the Bernard van Leer Foundation is changing that for cities around the world. The Urban95 initiative helps city governments, businesses, and nonprofits planning for the future, focus clearly on the needs of children and families. By envisioning what cities look and feel like at 95 cm high (the average height of a 3-year old), Urban95 is helping institutions meet the needs of all city residents. One important way that Urban95 is bringing these needs into focus is through maps.
Maps are (in this author’s humble opinion) among the most powerful data visualization tools, and when designed well, can display a huge amount of information that can be quickly interpreted. Across the globe, governments should consider using maps much more in practice in order to convey and envision solutions to problems faced by their residents. Recently, I participated in an Urban95 event in Istanbul which celebrated the launch of a map and report outlining how services for children and families align with city districts and socio-economic status. This event convened participants from across sectors to focus on how they could use the data and maps to better envision and deliver services to children and families across Istanbul and in particular for families with higher needs.
The Approach in Istanbul
While I was lucky enough to participate in the end celebration and planning, the real work to create the report and maps was done over the months and years prior to the event. Staff from the think tank TESEV and the Istanbul Studies Center at Kadir Has University worked together to gather, clean, and analyze the data from across Istanbul. Then they build interactive maps showing the distribution of children and socio-economic status across the city and district maps showing the services available for children and families.
While it seems simple, much of the critical work to create these useful tools was related to data management. Staff started by trying to map income but realized their data was inconsistent or incomplete, so instead mapped property values as a proxy. In addition, they were able to layer on more of a focus on services because in working with the municipalities to map property values they found they could easily add this data. All of this back end work resulted in the creation of useful tools for all to use across Istanbul.
Next Steps and Ideas to Learn From
At the event, some key items came to the forefront to help them ensure maps are useful going forward for policymakers and everyday residents. We talked about three major issues they, and all cities working on similar initiatives, need to confront.
- Data governance – The maps from Istanbul were built on strong data collection and analysis work.Ensuring that work is replicable with clear policies, roles, and responsibilities laid out will be key to keeping the maps up-to-date and in action.
- Focus on users – While the map is great, it’s only useful if people use it. The team in Istanbul is planning to engage users of the map to see what their needs are and to determine if the maps are meeting those needs. Then the team can focus on making adjustments to to the maps and reports moving forward with specific goals in mind.
- Integration of services – While the map is a great first step, the services and focus on children and families needs to be integrated across existing city services to maximize impact. By thinking about integrating this data into all kinds of decisions from transit to parks and healthcare, these maps and data can help change the mindset of decision-makers.
There is a lot to learn and a lot still to be done in Istanbul to focus energies on the needs of children and families in urban planning. But with good data infrastructure, interesting maps and visualizations, and committed users, there is a great foundation to meet community goals and improve the lives of children and families.