Spatial Planning in the face of Big Data: The Case of Africa

Kisumu City

The dawn towards the internet of things is fast approaching. The next big step of the Web and the internet technology in general an era where “things” will have the capabilities of talking to other “things”. With this comes Big Data that is collected from our everyday engagements from our shopping ,to the electricity and water bills we accrue ,the holidays we make and a lot of other things are being held by people somewhere and somehow ,many others holding such data knows that they have it while others don’t know the data in their hands. The Internet of things will lead to further development of Big Data, Think about the cars, roads, home appliances , stadiums that will be storing and transmitting data on a daily basis.

Spatial planners from the days gone by we are still grappling with a myriad of problems that bedevil our communities the day we will get a break is not yet known, It seems that every day we try to solve the various problems in our communities these problems tend to multiply .Nothing has made worse our job than the rampant corruption in local and central governments, and the runaway inefficiency of our governments. Through things a lot of resources that was earmarked for development of the necessary physical infrastructure cannot be accounted for, they have a word for it in the development profession circles “Capital Flight”. An African saying goes like “Do not cry over spilt milk” that is what I don’t want to do today, Today I want to talk of the opportunities that awaits Spatial Planners as Big Data becomes a reality ,In the West many organizations in the private and public sectors are making use of Big Data as I write, but coming back home here in Africa many of our planning departments are yet to embrace Information Technology we are still stuck in the past always trying to force the cow to drink the water having taken it to the river ,but the cow it seems has refused. We need to change the way we view spatial planning and work in embracing new technologies into planning.

Many planning departments hardly collect data ,try looking for any data going back twenty or thirty years in many places in Africa ,you will be in for a bad experience. Collection of data is not even the problem in some cases it is the way such data is processed into information that is the problem, you will find data yet but it is stored somewhere in a store being read by cockroaches and eaten away by rats. It is time for Africa to embrace data collection and processing, We should also ensure that we make public such data and try exchange it between various parties and stakeholders, The open data initiatives that has gathered pace in some African country is a step to the right direction, but there is need to have such data updated on a regular basis not once in five years.

   Through data and Big data in particular Africa will finally make its Spatial Planning agenda work and in the process help in answering all these questions about a underdevelopment, diseases, wars, unemployment among others. Planners should work in adopting techies so that they can start making sense of the data they have and in the process enhance effectiveness and efficiency. In the era of Big Data and the Internet of Things spatial planners should be on the ready to make history.


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