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The conversation around the relationship between big data and urban planning is changing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, writes Rob Walker. One company, Numina, has long been collecting data tracking pedestrians, cyclists, and other street-level travelers. Their data now has larger, far-reaching implications for mobility during the pandemic, in adding to "a public discussion in multiple cities about closing streets to give walkers and cyclists more space to move safely," according to Walker.
As new uses for big data prove helpful for reanalyzing public spaces, many argue that it could inform other aspects of the planning process by giving concrete answers to questions about how people behave and allowing planners to predict future behavior related to new plan implementation. "What if neutral data could suggest different answers to, say, where that new bridge should go, or which buildings to target for preservation? Answers based not on selective feedback, but on evidence that is already being collected by tech companies?" Walker queries. If tech companies can work to resolve concerns about privacy, policymakers and planners could use new data sources to inform a plethora of important decisions.