Finding data to measure ‘place capital’

Adelaide is experimenting with data methodologies for measuring the quality of public spaces. (Adelaide City Council)

ADELAIDE, Australia — How do you measure the quality of a place?

Adelaide has been asking that question a lot lately. As Citiscope reported this week, the capital of South Australia has become a global leader in using placemaking strategies to engage the public in livening up streets. The city also has become a leader in experimenting with ways of quantifying and measuring the impact of this work.

This is done through something called a “Place Capital Inventory.” It’s an analytical tool that gives city officials a framework for measuring the environmental, social, cultural, economic and physical values of locations that have been the subject of placemaking activity. It also provides tools for measuring these things, as well as a means for measuring the level of people’s attachment to a specific area and their “sense of place” at the broader scales of a district, or an entire city.

Environmental values include the amount of shade and greenery, the use of climate-sensitive and water-sensitive design, walkability and cyclability, availability of recycling infrastructure and the amount that local retailers support local production.

Social values are interpreted through things like the provision of social services, community involvement in partnerships with government, business philanthropy, social interaction and perceptions of safety.

Cultural value is assessed in terms of the presence of creative businesses and art spaces, the number of cultural events and festivals, the presence of public art and evidence of community cultural projects.

Evaluating economic capital ranges from the more traditional assessments of employment, turnover, rental values, tenancy types and rates, to more edgy measures such as the degree to which the place fosters social entrepreneurs, place branding, marketing, and research and development.

Finally, measurement of physical value covers everything from digital connectivity to street character and the quality and aesthetics of the built form in general.

Data that feed into the Place Capital Inventory include firsthand observations, trader surveys, people flow and occupancy counts, random telephone surveys and interviews of people using a place. Twelve months since the methodology was established, the first set of baseline data has been collected and analyzed for each of three pilot studies. These will be revisited periodically, to work out whether the new approaches are having an impact, before expanding it to the district level.

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Stephanie Johnston is a former book publisher turned town and country planner who writes for a number of publications including a+u, Historic Environment, Australian Garden History, The Adelaide Review, SA Life and Fleurieu Living Magazine. Full bio

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