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The Mayor of London The London Assembly

How can the London Datastore Improve Green Space Access?

One of the more intriguing elements of the updated Datastore design is the Schools Atlas. The Atlas’ case study notes that it “illustrates perfectly the power of accessing previously locked up data and using it in innovative ways”, and represents one of the ways in which the Datastore has democratized access to data that tangibly affects the lives of Londoners. Aside from the obvious implications for helping coordinate how the city can properly meet the needs of its growing school age population, it is also representative of how well designed, highly interactive data content can foster community and understanding.

With the Atlas as a template, are there opportunities for the Datastore to expand its use of this type of interactivity, and focus attention on the areas of civic life that can be most readily served by better access to data?

Consider that two of the Mayor’s commitments are to tackling obesity and to addressing health inequalities within the city. It is noteworthy that the Greater London Authority’s Better Environment, Better Health guide, published in 2013, states that accessible green space has long been recognized as a primary environmental determinant of good health, and that outdoor spaces have both physical and mental benefits for the city. More importantly, it is specifically the city’s urban residents who experience the greatest impact on their quality of life through access to green space.westminster greenspace

Indeed, this kind of access has been a cornerstone of other cities where interactive access to data has been prioritized. For example, the city of Palo Alto in California uses an interactive Google Map to help its citizens find parks and open spaces within the primarily urban confines of the city. In addition to highlighting where green spaces exist, the Palo Alto Community Services Department has incorporated previously static GIS (geographic information system) data into a modern and easy to use system that highlights walking paths, tree locations, and public parks, driving civic engagement and adoption.

Moreover, there is compelling evidence that making this kind of information freely available and easy to access has a marked effect on health; a February 2015 study published by the James Hutton Institute of Edinburgh University notes that there is a direct association between “more green space and…lower levels of stress” within urban populations, and that “larger urban green spaces provide multiple functions for communities”. Even more importantly, “the visibility of green space can make a significant difference to the interpretation of accessibility.”

The London Datastore has a role to play here; within the City of London, per the GLA’s guide, 100 per cent of households have deficient access to nature. By lowering the effort required to find accessible spaces within the city where those residents can walk, run, bicycle, and play, Londoners — even those living in areas where immediate access to local and small parks is limited — can more readily integrate the use of existing green space into their daily lives.

Given the tremendous benefits that outdoor activity can bring, the opportunity to implement similar functionality for the city is one that the Datastore should consider. Implementing interactive maps, especially for the identification of fixed resources such as parks and walking paths, need not be technologically challenging. Many cities fail to realize the technology even exists and is actually quite simple to integrate. At Avila, we’re optimistic that more local government bodies will start utilizing the software available. Google Maps that incorporate this kind of data can be implemented in short order, and the Datastore project (via the GLA) already has access to the geospatial information required to curate and publish this information in a manner similar to what Palo Alto for its population.

Dan Steiner is Chief of Technology from Avila Web Firm.