Using mapping tools to make the development permitting process more transparent

It’s occurred to me that, in the era of open governments and publicly available data of all kinds, the development and permitting process should seek to connect to this emerging practice and  become more transparent. We live in a time in which governments are increasingly making their data available to the public, only to hope that private parties will use it and develop new tools to better communicate all sorts of open access data.

Down under in Adelaide, South Australia, Daniel Kinnoch has developed a tool that potentially can democratize the oft-hidden information surrounding development permits (such as their status, the lots and parcels they pertain to, the kind of development being proposed, etc.). Using open access

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data on development applications that were logged with the City of Adelaide, he created a visual resource that displays where exactly new development has been proposed or approved. The tool  comes as a first in this regard, leaving planners and community advocates wondering if this tool could benefit their cities’, too.

What is more, he plans to expand the tool to include not just information on which development applications have been logged with the city, but other information as well, including where applications are on public notice, which streets are being resurfaced, and which areas are being rezoned.

new development applications

The mapping tool developed in Adelaide, Australia.


The mapping tool meets a real need for information among city dwellers and others. New developments in already built-out neighborhoods are often closely followed by local advocacy groups and residents alike. Larger cities have always been dynamic; a changing urban fabric is part of every city. Yet new development can both fuel a renewed sense of opportunity in neighborhoods, as well as a pessimistic view of the future. Most of all, the process of urban (re)development can lead to uncertainty to those who are invested in existing neighborhoods. This is where tools like this come in.

Mapping tools like the one that is now being used in Adelaide, also serve to connect urban planning to a broader trend of governments and public agencies releasing data on one hand, and people and organizations (call them ‘the market’) developing programs, tools and applications for them. As open-access data have gained in popularity, all kinds of data are being made open to the public these days. For instance, even the World Bank has provided open access to their vast repository of data and content in international (economic) development as of last year. Returning to urban planning and to the neighborhood-scale, the use of neighborhood-level information systems in community building and policymaking has long been acknowledged as a major technical and institutional breakthrough.

In 1995, the Urban Land Institute partnered with local organizations to setup the National Neighborhood Indicator Partnership (NNIP). Committed to democratizing information, NNIP partners focus on facilitating the “direct practical use of data by city and community leaders, rather than preparing independent research reports on their own”. The Urban Land Institute has also created a guide to online data visualization resources, which is probably the most comprehensive guide on the subject. Though their emphasis is mostly on exchanging knowledge and best practices amongst their partners, it reveals the need that is felt to reform the way we use data in community planning.

Despite these hopeful trends, few cities to date provide open access to data surrounding pending development applications. It remains a black spot in the era of open-access data and smart cities. Let’s hope Daniel Kinnoch’s tool developed for Adelaide starts to change this for the better, and that more cities will make information surrounding development applications open to the public— we’ve seen here that people, if not institutions and tech startups, will find a way to use these data in a meaningful way.

Do you know of any similar mapping tools that are being developed where you live? How do you feel about cities making a broad spectrum of information on development applications open access? Do you think the information that made available in the case of Adelaide could have been presented or used in a different way? Share your thoughts via the comments below.