Tag Archives: big data

Reflections on the First Geothink Grant: Checking in With Geothink’s Community of Innovators

Image result for montreal bridge construction

A new bridge is currently under construction next to Montreal’s Champlain Bridge. With Local Logic’s innovative approach, future planning decisions about bridges could be informed through detailed analysis of their impact on surrounding roads and neighborhoods.

By Drew Bush

When Local Logic co-founder and CEO Vincent Charles Hodder stopped by Geothink’s 2017 Summer Institute last year at McGill University in Montreal, QC, his presentation was a highlight for many of the students, faculty, and staff in attendance. Hodder’s company applies an innovative approach to improving the policies and practices of governments and their citizens through the use of urban geospatial data and modeling.

“We call ourselves urban planners turned data scientists,” Hodder told Geothink last summer. “So we’re really at the intersection of planning, data, data science, and then technology.”

Hodder told students his company was born out of his master’s work in McGill University’s School of Urban Planning and collaboration with students and faculty. At the time, the Canada Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Geothink partnership grant did not exist. But it would have been quite useful during his studies, he noted.

“Having people think about these issues while they’re in school I think is really important,” Hodder said. “And I think there is a lot of space for innovation in terms of cities, in terms of smart cities, and in using technology and having an impact on cities. So much so that we actually started a Meet-Up group in Montreal called Cities and Tech.”

Hodder and his colleagues have done more than start this group. His company has more than 15 full-time staff—including a former Geothink student. In the past few years, Local Logic has also expanded on its initial contributions to improving how urban development takes place or citizens choose their lodging. (His company’s approach allows you to know things like if your next prospective host on Airbnb might be located on a quiet or noisy street.)

Local Logic’s new ventures have moved beyond private real estate to focus on impacting municipal and urban planning and policy. He argues that his company stands at a crossroads. Their task is to redefine how governments create and present physical projects and accompanying policies so that individual citizens will better understand the impacts on their own lives.

“A lot of times these very large investments in public transportation, for example, are hard to understand for the citizen because it’s really difficult to kind of see the concrete impact on your life and on your daily activities,” Hodder said. “So, using our data we’ll be able to bring it down to that level of analysis and really see the difference in terms of, you know, housing values, lifestyle, and access to specific modes of transportation.”

“[Local Logic] mak[es] it much easier for people to understand the type of impact it will have on their lives,” he added. “For them, the citizens, to be able to make better decisions on whether or not to support these initiatives.”

Hodder’s company takes urban geospatial data collected in cities from now ubiquitous sensors and digital technologies such as smartphones. From this data, he and his colleagues work to painstakingly build models of urban spaces. This work starts with each individual street segment. On each street segment, coders must input all types of attributes relevant to a given project. These might include the width of streets, the height of buildings, the tree canopy, or how streets connect to adjoining infrastructure.

The resulting model has held a 94 percent confidence rate when applied to practical situations. It has been used to determine how best to place Bixi Bike locations in Montreal and to help housing developers better understand the needs of their potential customers. Future work may even evolve to include decision-makers in the federal government.

“We thought, what if we applied this way of analyzing the city to these kind of more macro issues as well,” Hodder said. “And then we realized there was this huge opportunity and there’s all this data available.”

Check out a video of Local Logic Co-Founder and CEO Vincent Charles Hodder talking at the 2017 Geothink Summer Institute in the second half of this video also featuring SmartHalo Co-Founder Xavier Peich.

Take a not-so-hypothetical situation as an example. Imagine one day that city officials in Quebec City and surrounding regions are planning a new bridge to cross from the North Shore to the South Shore of the Saint Lawrence River. Wouldn’t it be beneficial for governmental officials and their citizens to know how an automobile bridge versus one meant for bus rapid transit or rail affects traffic in surrounding neighborhoods and roads?

Local Logic’s effort to bring together academic researchers and stakeholders (who use technology to tackle urban problems) reflects an aim shared with the now concluding Geothink partnership research grant. The company’s work mirrors many of the lessons learned by Geothink’s researchers, students, and nonprofit, industry, and municipal partners. This helped to make Hodder’s presentation last summer quite compelling.

“It’s exciting to say,” he said. “But maybe we’ll have a real impact on the ways that cities are actually being built.”


If you have thoughts or questions about the article, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.

Using Data to Revolutionize How We Make Decisions

Community members taking part in a planning process as part of Robert Goodspeed's doctorl work in Dripping Springs, Texas.

Robert Goodspeed, assistant professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, examined how decision support systems could be applied to urban planning processes during his doctoral work. This photo is of one such process in Dripping Springs, Texas.

By Drew Bush

The decision support market, a segment of the healthcare industry, made financial headlines when estimation of its global value by 2019 reached USD 239 billion, a jump of almost 38 billion since 2012. According to a new report, major players in the industry have poured money into new technologies that can take advantage of big data.

Digital health initiatives like those led by Canada Health Infoway have led to the creation of a network of systems that securely connect and share health information. Decision Support Systems like this one utilize computer-based data to aid in individual decision-making by supplying a massive bank of previous cases that aid in choosing the most likely answer or predicting trends. Most consist of interactive computer-based systems that utilize data and models to solve problems requiring geographically or temporally dispersed information.

In healthcare, IBM’s Watson system has been leading the trend to improve decisions made by doctors. “Watson knows what tests are relevant to further characterize a particular patient condition and what tests are not,” the report states. “It is a great help to physicians to have an assistant that is able to have read the latest journal articles and is loaded with medical information to recommend what tests may be relevant in a particular situation.”

An estimated 30 percent of all costs incurred for healthcare delivery come from tests that are either of little value in a patient’s case or sometimes outright wrong, according to some reports. Like platforms offered in other industries, the decision support system engineered by IBM offers the promise of more nuanced testing to enable better decisions on which medical tests can be best applied to specific patient conditions.

Robert Goodspeed, assistant professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, studies decision support systems.

Robert Goodspeed, assistant professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, studies decision support systems.

Using decision support systems to analyze data and make better decisions has helped to improve processes in many industries. Geothink 2015 Summer Institute Instructor Robert Goodspeed, assistant professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, has studied this trend.

Although Goodspeed doesn’t work in healthcare, his research examines what he refers to as “planning support systems.” His work has looked at how we can use information technology to improve processes that engage community members in urban planning decisions. During his doctoral work, he created a process that allowed individuals to access information about their neighborhood and city to improve discussions.

This research involved community members placing stickers on maps to categorize specific areas for different land uses. This data was then transferred to digital form with one person entering the data as it was called out. Interactions such as this ensured entering the data could be reviewed by the group as a whole and reflected the ideas that they had discussed.

“The participants reported learning quite a bit and I could observe their plans evolving,” Goodspeed said. “So that’s just one example of the sorts of tools and practices that I think or feel we need. Especially as we’re facing issues like climate change where we want to quantify things and create indicators, and know how the plans we are creating are going to do or how they’ll perform against these different indicators.”

The Varied Uses of Decision/Planning Support Systems

In more recent research, Goodspeed has taken his work with planning support systems and applied it to improve environmental-decision-making processes surrounding North America’s Great Lakes ecosystems. Work he’s done as part of the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Framework project have used GIS datasets to examine aquatic habitats such as streams, rivers, and lakes in the region. The process also supplies a “big pile of data” for decision-makers in the fisheries and environmental management departments in Canada and the United States.

Unlike in planning where professional tasks follow a somewhat structured process, ecosystem-based management systems must consider a whole variety of information and tasks, Goodspeed said. Work in the project has included leading participatory design workshops for professionals north and south of the border to aid in the development of a tool that will one day allow easy digital examination off all the information on the Great Lakes collected for the project.

Community participation in planning processes that help to envision the possible future often result in a final product that’s inherently more understandable, Goodspeed added.

“And really it requires that kind of combination of creativity but being specific about what you think will happen and what you think will work,” he said of his work with decision-support systems. As big data is increasingly used to inform decision-making, this trend will only continue to grow beyond the industries of healthcare and environmental planning.

Tweet him @rgoodspeed.

If you have thoughts or questions about this article, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.