Do We Have Data On Urban Development and Are We Using It?

Ivan Tosics

By Ivan Tosics, on December 4th, 2013

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About the 6th workshop towards an Integrated Urban Monitoring in Europe (IUME), held on 22 October in Brussels at the Directorate-General for Regio and Urban Policy: for comparative urban analysis first and foremost comparative data are needed from cities.  This sounds simple – however, the reality is quite difficult.

In a recent meeting (details later) the representative of Eurostat, Gorja Bartsch was complaining about the problems to gather city statistics. The annual data collection from member states and from European agencies faces several challenges. The most important is the low response rate: of 900 cities approached in Europe only 233 cities supply (voluntarily) the requested data. Eurostat is now proposing a new legal act about data collection including also a suggestion to make the answers on minimum data requirements compulsory, replacing the present gentleman agreement to supply data.

Lack of data, lack of data use?

The lack of data (or the incompleteness of them) causes a lot of problems for those who would like to work with data. The representative of Siemens, Marc Lemper talked about the large data gaps regarding energy consumption in urban areas. Breakdowns of national data to cities can be very misleading, therefore Eurostat is not doing such breakdowns but asks cities to make their best guess. A new aspect was brought into the discussion by the representative of ICLEI, Stefan Kuhn: complaints go on since years that data are missing and not collected on correct territorial level – but are the existing data used at all on in policy analysis …?

There are good potentials for evidence-based policy analysis, based on use of data, which have partly to be self-collected – this was the opinion of the representative of DG Regio and Urban Policy, Lewis Dijkstra. He gave an interesting presentation about a new approach to measure access to public transport in European cities. He collected information about service areas, public transport stops, and the frequency of the service in the functional urban area of the cities. These data were combined with population density in the different territorial units of the urban area. As a result the population of the model cities can be classified into different categories, having very good, good, medium, or low level of access to public transport. This leads to an internationally comparable method of assessment of public transport service in the urban area, not based on the administrative borders of cities (which are in most cases artificial, not mirroring the reality).

If this method could be standardized and data could be widely collected, it could become in the future a new tool to evaluate programme proposals to the Structural Funds. The funding requests form cities could be compared to the reality: is the public transport system in the city really so bad that an additional subway line has to be built from EU money…?

IUME’s members and contributions

This discussion was part of the one day meeting of IUME in Brussels. IUME (Integrated Urban Monitoring in Europe) is a partnership, initiated by the European Environment Agency  (EEA) . Their aim is to create an appropriate information base and management tools to cope with the social, economic, environmental and territorial perspectives of urban development. The core members of this partnership are institutions which are interested to collect, manage, analyze and display land use related spatial data: European Environmental Agency, European Topic Center for Land Use and Spatial Information (ETC, Malaga) , AmbienteItalia,  Eurostat. Additional members are institutions which can contribute to and/or use the data: Energy Cities , ICLEI, Eurocities, ESPON (European Observation Network, Territorial Development and Cohesion), METREX (The network of European Metropolitan Region and Areas), CEMR (The Council of European Municipalities and Regions), OECD. Many of the DG-s of the Commission (DG Environment, DG Regio, DG Move, DG Employment, Joint Research Center) are interested in the work of IUME.

The partnership is open to other stakeholders, so it happened that in the sixth meeting of the group in Brussels on 22 October 2013 also the representatives of URBACT, UN Habitat and Siemens  participated. Roughly half of the presentations were given from the side of the Commission which clearly shows that this group is an intermediary between the Commission and research institutions/programmes.

Data and spatial modelisation: an environmental bias?

Urban Data challenge expo at OKCON 5Most topics were environmental and very technical. The projects which were discussed are usually based on GIS or other territorial information systems. From the spatial orientation interesting new potentials emerge to link transport, green infrastructure, etc. data to each other in the functional urban area, on the basis of a fine-grained spatial information system.
Compared to this empirical trend the URBACT projects seem to be conceptual, dealing not enough with data and being not enough spatially detailed and modelled. In any case, in my presentation I highlighted the URBACT approach and the capitalization issues, handing over copies of the URBACT reports and of the Cities of Tomorrow, Action Today  publication.

The IUME group can be a good link for URBACT capitalisation efforts regarding the environmental issues. It can also be a good basis for the quantification of URBACT results if this will become needed. On the reverse side the emphasis of URBACT on integrated development might be an important message to IUME, suggesting that they should not deal exclusively with environmental issues, cut off from all other aspects.

Ivan_TosicsBy Iván Tosics

URBACT Thematic Pole Manager

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