Aaron Schiff’s blog

Open data leads to useful stuff

Last Friday, Auckland Council published the recommended Unitary Plan geospatial data files.

Before this data came out, the Council provided an interactive map tool to view the data, which looked like this:


This is obviously comprehensive but I certainly found it quite difficult to make sense of. There are so many colours, many of them are hard to distinguish, and there’s no information about what is allowed in each zone (though you can look that up in separate documents).

After the geographic data was published, there was a veritable explosion of interesting maps and analysis. For The Spinoff, Chris McDowall made some beautiful maps:


For many purposes, Chris’s maps are much more useful and usable than the original Council map viewer. There are fewer map colours and they are legible. There’s an index of suburbs, allowing you to find a place easily even if you don’t know exactly where it is. Each suburb has a percentage breakdown of the main zone types, and there’s brief descriptions of the zones. And you can find suburbs that are “similar” to each other, which is a feature that I love.

Harkanwal Singh of the NZ Herald also made some simplified interactive maps that focus on residential and town centre zoning. What I really like about these maps is the ability to select one zone type at a time and see the map change. For example, here’s a map of the “terraced housing and apartments” zone that allows low-rise apartment buildings of between five and seven stories high:


Harkanwal’s map also has a helpful one-line description of what each zone allows in terms of residential buildings. This enables quick and easy understanding of the residential zoning in the recommended plan.

Will Taylor made several interactive maps, including one showing all residential zones, one showing where the residential height limit is two storeys, and one showing where it will be permitted to build higher than three storeys. That last map shows that, in spite of the hype, the recommended UP is quite limited in the areas where buildings above three storeys will be allowed:


Will also made an animated GIF of how the “single house” zone changed between the Council’s proposed plan and the ultimate recommended plan:

Will has summarised his analysis in a blog post on TVHE.

Finally, I made a few quick maps of the “overlays” in the recommended plan. Rather than defining zoning, these overlays impose additional restrictions on activities, to protect things like special character and heritage. Here’s a map showing most of the overlays combined:

And just for fun, I made some simple line maps showing all of the recommended unitary plan geospatial data at one, to illustrate how complex it is.

The above are just the things that I saw and there might be others that I missed. So, in just a week since Auckland Council published the data, people have created a bunch of useful, interesting maps and analysis, at no cost to the Council. This clearly demonstrates the value of open data and I’d encourage the Council to publish more of it (e.g. rating valuations … nudge nudge, wink wink).