Maarten van Helden is a senior sustainable development advisor at the Province of Utrecht who works day to day with the Tygron Geodesign Platform. In an interview with Tygron, he shares insights on the improvements that the Platform brought to his work processes, the reactions within the municipalities to the software and the collaboration between Tygron and the Utrecht Province to create new, custom features that improve the usability of the Platform.
Benefits of the Tygron Platform
According to Van Helden, the incorporation of the Tygron Platform into the work processes of the province brought beneficial change to the development of spatial plans. The major advantages of the tool are the visualisation capabilities of the software. The tool can turn a chosen two-dimensional area on the map into a three dimensional interactive model. It can be applied to any area and the user has instant access to multiple information layers (overlays) that can be drawn over the neighbourhood or area. Without the software, any change proposed to the area needs to be first calculated and subsequently, a new map needs to be drawn. This delays the decision process as drawing such plans and making the calculations can take days. The Tygron Platform, however, allows to make changes to the plan and assess their impact to the area almost instantly. That way, time and effort can be saved and the decision making and planning process can accelerate.
Tygron for Utrecht Province
At the Utrecht Province, the Tygron software is helping Van Helden and his team to develop quality scores of varieties of aspects of the environment. Issues such as noise pollution, air pollution, energy and soil quality are assigned a score from 1 to 10 which gives the urban planners insight into the state of these aspects in the current situation. The scores are calculated by the Tygron software automatically, however the meaning behind the numerical values is decided by Van Helden and a team of specialists who have expertise in various domains related to urban planning. In order for the plan to be approved, all indicators need to be above 6. According to Van Helden, the province is not satisfied with plans which score just above the legal minimum. The advisors are not focusing on what is allowed but they strive to explore which solutions will guarantee the best possible health and living conditions for the people. If certain scores are not satisfactory, the user can take different actions in the platform which could potentially improve the situation and test what influence on the area they will have by running a simulation. According to Van Helden, because of the fact that every decision has an influence on the other aspects of the environment, every issue and every choice needs to be discussed by multiple specialists which are involved in making the urban plans. Even though some scores are impossible to be objectively measured, they are contributing to the discussion because they put the discussed issue in context and provide the planners with a sense of perspective.
Working with Tygron to create custom solutions
While working with the Tygron Platform, van Helden and his team often rely on the assistance of the GIS department within the Utrecht Province which, holding expertise in Geo data, helps them to translate the maps into the software and create custom calculation models. According to Van Helden, even with the help of the GIS department in developing custom solutions catered to the needs of his team, there is need for thought exchange between his team and Tygron as often specialistic features need to be developed in order for the software to support his projects. Holding a partnership with Tygron, Van Helden, his team and the GIS department are in constant dialogue with Tygron and its’ developers about how the software can be adjusted, and improved, and which features can be added to meet the needs of the users.
Reactions to the software within municipalities
Through using the Tygron Platform by multiple various projects within the Utrecht Province as well as in various Dutch municipalities, Van Helden and his team have gained considerable number of insights on how the employees of governmental organizations react to the software. The visualization properties of the platform evoke positive reactions among the users and make them gain trust in visualized information quickly. It is common that the users are often impressed with the realistic image generated by the software and do not always question the scores and results predicted by the software. Even though not everyone is reflecting upon the calculations performed by the tool and the data fed into the software, there is a considerable number of users who ask good and interesting questions about the innerworkings of the tool. According to the observations of Van Helden, the Platform is a tool which aids the discussion and by showing the issue in relation to other aspects to the area, gives context to the discussed problem and motivates the specialists to work and debate together.
Giving advice to smaller municipalities
From the experience of Van Helden and his team, the advice that they give to urban planners influences the plan initially, however, as they can only join the project for a short amount of time, the plans can develop in a different than the advised direction. As Van Helden mentions, keeping knowledge within the organization is difficult as some small municipalities have limited access to advisors with expertise in the Tygron software. He claims that best results are achieved when the Tygron Platform is incorporated in the planning process right at the beginning of the project. Changing spatial plans halfway usually results in high costs.
Looking into the future
In the interview, Van Helden mentions a number of possible applications of the Platform which might become more common in the near future. According to him, at the moment, little social data is used by the province while working with the Platform. The province has the access to basic social data such as the information about jobs and income of the area, it is however difficult to combine it with spatial planning. It is therefore not yet the focus while working with the software. Van Helden indicates however that it might be more incorporated in the future. Another possible application of the software which is exceptionally relevant in the light of the Omgevingswet (Environmental and Planning Act) is using the Platform as Digital System (DSO) which can inform the citizens about the spatial laws and help to communicates urban plans to them.