UK tech startup Yeme Tech partners with Esri to improve urban planning to create happier, healthier cities. It is the latest in a long line of community engagement or consultation platforms.
Pioneering Yorkshire-based tech startup Yeme Tech has a strapline about ‘humanizing data’. It aims to improve urban planning for towns and cities by helping planners respond better to local needs for community facilities, spaces and events.
Based in Bradford, Yeme Tech is a subsidiary of Yeme Architects. It has created a sophisticated Community Data Platform (CDP) to help planners and developers instantly identify social infrastructure, facilities, and community spaces which are missing from British neighbourhoods. The company’s founder, Amir Hussain (on right in photo, with Esri UK CEO Stuart Bonthrone), is deputy chair of Housing Regeneration and Place at West Yorkshire Combined Authority. He wants to empower councils and developers to identify facilities and events which residents actually need and will visit.
Esri UK partnership
Yeme Tech now plans to take this approach global after signing a partnership deal with Esri UK, part of Esri Inc, the world’s largest provider of geographic information system (GIS) software. Esri’s UK customers include HS2, Sustrans, Sport England, National Trust, the Environment Agency, Ordnance Survey, Greater London Authority and more than 200 local authorities in England and Wales.
The Yeme Tech Community Data Platform
CDP aims to help planners and developers cultivate and manage long-term relationships with the people who have the largest stake in the success of a neighbourhood: local residents. It measures community resources – such as schools, shops, green space, libraries and cultural assets – and also local stakeholders, local events and the activities of local groups. This gives a far more holistic view of the social as well as economic health of communities. It cross-references this data with demographic information to better judge whether local needs are being satisfied and, crucially, whether there are any gaps in provision.
With social value now a key business consideration, the platform’s ESG Social Reporting Index helps developers, investors and others to target and evidence social uplift around their assets or development sites. Hussain says:
“It can be very complex and time-consuming to regenerate our towns and cities to adapt to meet the current and future needs and wants of their citizens. What our Community Data Platform does is provide granular local detail in real-time to strip away the complexity and enable planners and developers to work with local communities to deliver successful urban planning which provides the facilities and social infrastructure that people need and want.”
The system has been tested in London, supporting the Bromley-by-Bow Centre. This is the UK’s first integrated health centre incorporating community support, business support, housing support, an art gallery, and an events venue. As well as medical interventions, its doctors are able to prescribe activities, including art courses, access to community care, and an allotment. The approach is now being delivered nationally in a series of Innovation Projects by Well North Enterprises.
The EE perspective
There has been a long history of technology platforms working with local communities or enabling different types of citizen engagement. Global projects such as OpenStreetMap and Wikipedia feature lots of content by local contributors. And there have been variants that have aimed to share information about buildings and other infrastructure – OpenBuildings (June, July 2011 posts), for example (it also spawned the more long-lasting Clippings.com, a Pinterest-style architectural and interior design scrapbook service – 2012 post). Immersive virtual reality (VR) tech has been used to help communicate new building designs in Denmark (2012 – post). And I wrote about ‘telling stories about places’ in relation to the London startup City-Insights in 2015 (post).
However – and predating all of these – I particularly recall YouCanPlan, a consultative platform developed by Michael Kohn’s Slider Studio that was used for local consultation purposes. West Midlands-based Rob Annable of Axis Design Architects used the platform for a planning exercise in the Lozells district of Birmingham in 2009 (see his blog post; also the video below). It was also presented at various Be2camp ‘unconferences’ I was then co-promoting.
Slider Studio (a former pwcom.co.uk client) also developed the StickyWorld ‘democratic design’ consultative platform. This enabled the virtual equivalent of a design critique (aka a ‘charrette’), client or contractor meeting, or a project review with consultants (read this 2010 Polis blog post; also this 2017 interview with Kohn). It morphed into Confers.com, which closed about a year ago (29 May 2022), though Kohn continues to work in the field at Personarc.com.
Delivering social value
Yeme Tech’s offering is timely, however. With UK government and industry increasingly talking about delivering better whole life value, and with a government-backed Value Toolkit to guide industry efforts, any tools that can help ascertain community needs and measure outcomes will be helpful, particularly in the early planning stages of projects when different scenarios and designs might need to be evaluated. And today (31 May 2023) at the COMIT annual conference, I talked to Alison Watson of ClassOfYourOwn about Yeme Tech as a platform that might also be used to help schools get involved with local improvement projects.