Data Quality

Leveraging Points of Interest (POI) Data For Urban Planning & Community Development

Urban areas are places with high-population density, and these areas continue to grow. The U.N. predicts that 68% of the world’s population will reside in urban areas by 2050. As of 2018, Northern America is considered the most urbanized region with 82% of its population living in those areas.

How are these areas supporting the rapid population growth now and in the future?

These cities, towns, and suburbs need an infrastructure (living arrangements, transportation, etc.) to support this continually growing population. That’s where urban planning can help. With the help of data, specifically points of interest data, planners can create safer and more productive urban environments.

What is Points of Interest data?

Data comes in all forms and can provide additional, useful information on almost anything. This includes physical places. This is called points of interest (POI) data, and it gives intelligence on real-world places ranging from permanent stores, parks, and monuments to temporary locations such as public events or tourist attractions.

Regardless, the goal of POI data is to gain insight about these specific locations and the people visiting them.

What is POI in urban planning?

While many people consider POI to merely reflect foot traffic data or location analytics, it actually encompasses much more than that. Geospatial data provides a variety of information including:

  • Descriptions about a location (points, lines, and polygons)
  • Census data tied to specific areas
  • Cell phone data based on GPS location coordinates
  • Images of building or other structures that provide architectural data
  • Social media posts tied to a physical location

This type of data provides unique benefits for urban planners. A few to note include:

  • Advance warning. When data anomalies are flagged, it gives planners and organizations a heads-up regarding changes (such as a population or economic shift) that might affect the area.
  • Deeper understanding. This does not just apply to analytics solutions that are working but also to solutions that are not working.
  • Heightened efficiency. Updated geospatial data is precise which improves the overall efficiency and decision making process of urban planners.

Consider for a moment urban planners are determining the best location for new affordable housing. POI data not only informs them of the areas able to most accommodate new housing, but it also provides insight into the patterns of the people most in need of it.

This type of data can be leveraged to build cities of the future: safe, thriving, and responsive to the needs of residents. However, in order to properly use POI data, urban planners need to make sense of it all using data analytics.

What is data analytics in urban planning?

Urban planners are up against the challenge of building (and continually adjusting) cities to support the continuous population surge. Fortunately, there is more data available to them than ever before. Data analytics can help them properly leverage it all.

There are several key areas to note where data analytics is useful:

  • Use predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to run simulations of proposed urban developments to see how it will affect the lives of residents. For example, by creating a virtual model of a new transportation infrastructure with simulated traffic conditions backed by data, urban planners are able to design a plan that minimizes traffic congestion and make public transportation more easily accessible to the people who need it.
  • New technology has given urban planners access to more relevant data than ever before, specifically allowing them to gain better insight into urban dwellers’ needs and concerns. For example, maybe a city’s residents care less about a fancy new park and are more concerned with the poor waste management system that is continually backing up. This highlights for planners a need that should be addressed first.
  • Data analytics sheds new light on how city resources are being used, which allows urban planners to better allocate resources to where they are most needed. For example, this can show urban planners which areas are most in need of basic resources such as access to quality grocery stores or healthcare.

The benefits are clear, however, urban planners require the necessary tools and resources to analyze and present data efficiently. A geographic information system (GIS) can be the perfect fit.

What is GIS?

A category of geospatial data, POI data benefits from the use of a geographic information system (GIS). This kind of system creates, manages, analyzes, and maps data and connects it to a map. With GIS, users are able to organize, visualize, and analyze different layers of data in ways they couldn’t before. For example, now users can see location data in a map interface, helping them to visualize proposals and projects. Below are some common ways that companies can leverage data to improve their mapping technology and help their clients make more informed business decisions.

  • Site selection – determining the most profitable location for business expansion
  • Distribution selection – determining the most profitable location for a business based on foot traffic trends
  • Urban planning – analyzing economic growth, zoning codes, population, etc. for more informed planning decisions
  • Crisis response – mapping out vulnerable areas for disaster preparation

How is GIS used in urban planning?

In many ways, GIS makes urban planning more efficient than ever before. As the hardware and software of GIS becomes more accessible and user friendly, the ways it can be used continue to emerge. Here are just a few instances where urban planners benefit from leveraging GIS to make sense of their POI data:

1. Improving urban maps. Since GIS relies heavily on accurate data and map technology, this has become one of the most prominent use cases for the system in urban planning. GIS provides a centralized location for current and historical data and maps. This makes it easier to keep maps updated, as well as increase the efficacy of thematic mapping.

2. Improving internal communication. Again, as a centralized system for all types of POI data, GIS leverages POI data that allows users to access information they need immediately and speed up the decision making process. Partnering with a data provider that offers accurate POI data, such as Data Axle, is key to being able to access this information quickly and allows users to make informed decisions on the fly.

3. Improving external communication. With GIS, urban planners are able to open the flow of information between organizations and the public. Not only does this information need to be shared quickly, but it also gives the public–the urban dwellers themselves–easy access to the information they need.

Los Angeles is a prime example of an urban area utilizing POI data and GIS technology to accommodate a growing population. For a long time they have been recognized as an open-data pioneer, but that title was solidified with the launch of a site dedicated to exploring, visualizing, and downloading location-based data. To manage growth within the city of Los Angeles, the city planners rely on high quality POI data and GIS tech to pinpoint areas of need. With the use of this technology, they are able to keep track of more parcels and polygons than ever before, giving them a better understanding of the city to analyze economic growth, zoning codes, population density, and so much more.

The source of the GIS data powering the Los Angeles transformation is Data Axle’s partner, ESRI. You can learn more about the project here.

Looking to enhance your GIS Tech?

It’s crucial to partner with the right data provider. Contact us to get more information about how you can leverage POI data to support your client’s next community development project.


Kristin Burdi
Kristin Burdi
Strategic Account Director

Kristin is an experienced professional with a focus on strategic sales, account management and media planning. At Data Axle, Kristin provides guidance to our clients on customizing solutions to best fit their needs and help them exceed their business goals. When she’s not at work, you can find Kristin at the spending time with her family or at the beach, skiing, hiking, or disc golfing.