How Big Data Used to Shape Future

Tuesday 8 January 2013, 2:51PM
By Wellington City Council


Your City Council is showcasing, at the newly reopened National Library, the smart technology it is using to plan a better future for Wellington.

Big Data - Changing Place is the name of a major new exhibition at the library - and it's about collecting and analysing data to better understand changes in the environment and how we can plan the city in response.

Big Data includes aerial photographs and digitised maps as well as the Council's realistic 3D models which are used by extSpace to present a spectacular three-panel 'fly-through' animation of the city.

The animation provides a view of Wellington in 1840, how the city looks today and an imagined Wellington in 2100. All three screen panels sweep around the city together so people can clearly see the changes to date, and possible changes to come.

Philippa Bowron, the Council's Head of Innovation, says the Council has been at the forefront of supporting 'Big Data' in New Zealand. "We hosted the International Digital Earth Summit along with Land Information NZ in September - as well as providing data and products for this brilliant exhibition."

The giant panels change to show life-like depictions of the bush-clad hills and original streams that flowed in to the harbour up until the 19th century. They also depict the possible effects of a rising sea-level - including a giant dyke to protect the Westpac Stadium from inundation.

For the benefit of the technologically inclined, the models have been created from:

  • LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) - a technology that uses lasers to model the terrain in our city in unprecedented detail
  • Pictometry - specialised aerial photography that enables realistic digital 3D buildings to be modelled.


Philippa says the data and models are already proving invaluable to the Council's planners and geospatial team - who played an active part in getting them working. "This kind of data manipulation will be central to the way the city is shaped in the future."

The National Library reopened to the public late last year after a three-year closure to renovate and future-proof the building.

It houses a vast catalogue of the nation's treasures, including the billion-dollar collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Big Data - Changing Place is curated by Richard Simpson of the International Society for Digital Earth. It considers the vast volume of information digitally available and its potential uses in all areas of life. In particular, 'Big Data' looks at how humans can use technology as a super-sense, making the invisible visible and the intangible tangible.

"'Big Data' is a technical term for referring to volumes of data too large to be processed by a single system," explains Richard. "Sixty years ago, digital computers made data readable. Twenty years ago, the Internet made it reachable. Ten years ago, the first search engine crawlers made it a single database. Now Google and like-minded companies are sifting through the most measured age in history, treating this massive corpus as a laboratory of the human condition.

"Big Data is not just for big business," says Richard. "It is redefining our lives and the way we see the physical and social places around us, ourselves and the wider universe."

Big Data - Changing Place can be viewed during the National Library's normal open hours: 8.30am - 5.00pm, Monday to Saturday.