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Benefits Of Urban Nature To You

In this video, Barbara Percy, a software developer at the IEA, provides a behind the scenes glimpse of the benefit wheel, an online visualisation tool
I’m Barbara Percy. And I work for the Institute for Environmental Analytics. I’d like to take a few moments to tell you about a project I’ve been working on, which has taken big data and made it into small data. It uses visualisations that are meaningful and show patterns that people can understand and make use of.
In 2015-16, the UK’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs funded a project to work with local communities to enhance the natural capital in UK towns and cities. The aim was to improve people’s lives, their environment, and their local economy. West Country Rivers Trust led the project to deliver a method that would assess the opportunities for change, as well as a toolbox of interventions that could be used to make those changes. Four locations were identified as case study areas Leicester, the Thames Estuary, Newton Abbot, and Manchester.
Based on freely available data and information, so they could be generated for any location within the UK, the project identified a series of indicators that can affect and be affected by natural capital and green infrastructure. These indicators covered economic, social, and cultural benefits, as well as environmental ones and became the basis of the method to identify the opportunities where the urban environment could be enhanced for people, plants, and animals. From a base map of the city and utilising dozens of data sets in many different formats from many different sources, benefits wheels were produced at the most appropriate scale for the demonstration area, in this case, the administrative wards within Manchester.
Although the results for each demonstration area were published as very readable case study reports, the Manchester results were selected to go online as BOUNTY. So here’s a sneak preview of the website that has been trialled in Manchester.
I can move a mouse over the map and see a small benefits wheel for each ward. But I can also click on any ward to say a larger version of the same wheel. Then, I can move my mouse over the wheel spokes to see what that spoke actually means, the ward score, and how that score relates to other wards in Manchester. From masses of disparate data sources and following weeks of analysis, the results are now condensed into a simple wheel that is easy to understand. The longer the spoke, the better it is in the ward. So Old Moat has great air quality and the properties are less likely to be flooded.
But there’s little access to green space, which is why it’s also bad for wildlife, doesn’t have a great looking landscape, and doesn’t have much in the way of outdoor activities. And the online version has the added advantage, because just by another click of the mouse, I can investigate any spoke to see even more detail, including some of the data that was used to determine the score and what tools there are in the tool box that could improve the score. Some interventions are better than others, So. appear bolder. Again, with just another click, I can then see how adding more of this type of intervention could affect the spokes in the ward.
And where the data is available, I can even say on the map where the interventions could go. At the moment, this is only a demonstration website. The sliders are only indicative of the improvements and the cost. A live site would be far more accurate, including limiting the interventions to just your selected ward and actually estimating the cost. But the point to take home is that large data can be reduced to a small, meaningful visual representation, an executive summary if you like. With careful thought about the visualisation, the header can be seen immediately. Then, those who want to know more can dig deeper by reading on or clicking in to drill down. But always consider who your audience may include.
You might think that everyone understands pie charts and bar charts, but that’s not necessarily the case. The BOUNTY wheel works well, because it is simple.


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The Benefits Of Urban Nature To You (BOUNTY) was a visualisation project which aimed to improve decision making surrounding proposed, neighbourhood improvement projects. In this video, Barbara Percy, a software developer at the IEA, provides a behind the scenes glimpse of the benefit wheel, an online visualisation tool, she created for this project. The benefit wheel provides a simple way to help users identify a series of indicators that can affect and be affected by potential improvements or developments that might benefit communities, at very local level.
Accessible, inclusive visualisations were crucial to enable residents, local authority officers, developers and policy makers to work together on a level playing field. The aim was to facilitate the funding, adoption and sustainability of projects in a cost-effective and efficient way.
The wheel characterises the social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits provided by natural capital and gives a visual estimation of the difference, improvements to the environmental assets could make, including: footfall in retail areas, increased property values, reduction in flood risk and alleviating local climate change impacts.
You can find out more about this project on the IEA website.
The benefit wheel already includes air quality, flood risk, cultural activity and average house price. What other parameters do you think could be added? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.
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