Twitter offers trusty town planning tips

1 May 2016

A University of Queensland graduate has harnessed Twitter to develop software that could help town planners design new urban areas.

Coby Tomlins, who graduated from a Bachelor of Regional and Town Planning last year, created SMARTA, which analyses real-time activity on Twitter to determine where, when and why people visit an area, as well as the sentiment of their visit.

Ms Tomlins said she applied the software to assess user satisfaction of Brisbane’s Southbank district.

“Currently most town planners rely on old or out-of-date data to plan future developments,” Ms Tomlins said.

Using data collected from Twitter, Ms Tomlins identified six main reasons people visited Southbank: food, recreation, work, buildings/spaces, health/fitness and entertainment.

“I found entertainment is the most common reason people visit Southbank, and the peak visitor times are on the weekend or in the evenings,” she said.

From there Ms Tomlins looked at the tone of the Tweets to determine how satisfied people were with their visit to the area.

“Overall I found the Gallery of Modern Art, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the free music concerts, which occur on the weekend, had positive user satisfaction,” she said.

“Whereas negative sentiments were generally restricted to traffic problems, sunburn and people struggling to find their way around.”

Ms Tomlins hopes harnessing the organic, unprompted feedback available on Twitter will make it easier and faster for town planners to compare the intended vision for an area and the reality experienced by users.

“Using this community feedback we can see where improvements are needed, as well as the areas that are well loved and should be maintained,” she said.

Earlier this year Ms Tomlins launched SMARTA Planning, a consultancy firm that uses an upgraded version of her software to draw data from a range of social media platforms, including Twitter.

Ms Tomlins was recently awarded the 2016 Minister’s Town Planning Prize at the launch of the Planning Institute of Australia's Awards for Planning Excellence at Parliament House in Brisbane.

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Media: Leonie Small, l.small@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3365 8598; Coby Tomlins, info@smartaplanning.com

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