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Last year, New York City issued its largest number of construction permits ever. New buildings dotting familiar skylines or deafening cement trucks might define our urban experiences, but pinpointing the source hasn’t always been easy. Now, every one of those 168,233 permits are available online and updated daily for anyone to see.
The data was always available, of course.
Although making sense of it often required an advanced degree and a background in real estate or construction according to the city’s building commissioner Rick D. Chandler. Thanks to a $60 million digital initiative in 2015, the city is now able to track every elevator, escalator or scaffolding under repair, or construction across all five boroughs. The agency’s mountain of data, he announced, is finally transparent.
As of this post, more than 198 million square feet of construction is either in progress or pending. But what happens when these projects are complete? Spatial planning and analytics is a rapidly-growing sector and one with little precedent when it comes to collecting our indoor data. In the past, structures were built without adequate information from the onset, relying on the instincts and experience of its architects and planners. Years go by without improvements or correction. How can we know so little about the spaces we inhabit? The amount of waste and opportunity is obvious.
So yes, it’s a sector ripe for optimization.
Today, we have mapping technology for smart buildings and more efficient construction, while companies like WeWork capitalize on our share economy and decentralized workforce. But the secret sauce is data. WeWork is the world’s leading co-working start-up and the sixth-most-valuable at $21 billion today. Its real value, analysts argue, is more than a lifestyle experience. It’s what the company can do with the information it’s collecting over 13 million square feet globally.
Of course, HERE is no stranger to the potential. We continue to announce partnerships and acquisitions with stakeholders operating in all kinds of industries including facility management. In fact, automated office space has been around since the 1960s as companies started using data to devise floor plans. “While these researchers laid the theoretical foundation for WeWork’s later work,” writes Mark Sullivan on the company’s R&D efforts, “few of their innovations made it into practice given the difficulty of developing tools that handle all the oddly-shaped floors, errant columns and other constraints on architecture projects.”
The VC behemoth isn’t wrong. It’s just so much larger than four walls and a conference room. As HERE’s growing partnerships prove, the power of indoor mapping and spatial analytics is vast.
Still, it’s not just about the data. With so much out there, we sometimes forget that it’s not all nomenclature. Our data becomes vernacular eventually. Early mapping technology, for instance, relied on a continuously updated platform, thus feeding websites and apps, compounding user influence. Earlier this year, residents in major cities discovered a new acronym or spelling for their zip code based on no local affiliation. Historically, neighborhoods like DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) came from word of mouth or newspapers. Today, it will most likely come from a comment. While these neighborhood names aren’t official, the reality of crowdsourced data can transform traditions both large and small.
No one objects to more desk space or natural light. But how, exactly, do we know that? The benefits of smart location technology and how we harness the potential of outdated or underutilized capabilities is certainly here. For WeWork, the future might be an algorithm to help design your next office space. For New York City, the future is a map. For HERE, it’s anything our partners want it to be. No one says history runs at the same speed.