Big data, changing lifestyles, Cities, Future workplace, People Place Performance

Photo: Copyright AECOM by David Lloyd

The Global Cities Indicators Facility (GCIF) at the University of Toronto has for a long time worked with many cities around the world to collect and share data on city-level information that would be valuable for city management. Their global conference held this past May in Toronto brought together several hundred representatives of city governments, architects, planners and academics to explore what is being discovered. As a senior fellow of the Global Cities Institute I was invited to speak at the conference.

Created in 2008, the GCIF provides a set of city indicators prioritized by cities, with a globally standardized methodology that allows for comparability of city performance and knowledge sharing. Beginning with nine pilot cities, the GCIF has now developed into a global network of over 255 cities across 81 countries. Building on these core indicators, this work has evolved into a new ISO Standard (ISO 37120) and the concurrent creation of the World Council on City Data.

The big news about the data that the university is collecting is that it is now able to do so under the imprimatur of an ISO standard. It means that the data are being gathered under clear standards for comparability. The ISO standard provides an enormous boost to the value of such data and will increase the level of interest (and investment) in such data by those seeking to support cities with ‘smart’ urban infrastructure. We can expect to see a huge uplift in intelligent analyses of these kinds of data that will provide a kind of ‘meta’ overview of urban performance. See for example the establishment of the Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) in New York, a public-private research center that “observes, analyzes, and models cities to optimize outcomes, prototype new solutions, formalize new tools and processes, and develop new expertise/experts in ‘Urban Informatics’.

I am interested in how this development of a ‘smart city’ movement and the enrichment and availability of data to understand urban performance relates to our own perspectives on work, workplaces, and the city. It suggests that our analyses of workplace data should now be related to wider perspectives on where and how work is happening on an urban scale in new kinds of working environments – some of them public or semi-public, some of them embedded in all sorts of different kinds of environments (residential, social, retail, educational etc.). Many of these new workplaces are mixed-use environments, with work taking places alongside many other kinds of functions and uses. So what are some of the avenues to explore further?

  • We know that most office workplaces are grossly under-occupied (average active occupancy is around 43%).
  • We know that staff in many organizations are already working in a variety of non-office based places and spaces in cities.
  • We don’t have the tools to measure and analyze how this wider network of workplaces is being occupied and used and how it should be designed and provided for in the future.

The smart city movement and the availability of rich datasets from global cities means there is a huge opportunity to explore urban-scale working patterns. I am looking forward to researching and defining new kinds of performance goals for these emerging kinds of networked urban buildings and places.


Andrew LaingAndrew Laing ( leads AECOM’s global Strategy Plus practice.

Originally published Aug 29, 2014

Author: Andrew Laing