Designing Better Cities with Data Analytics

Flux Metro Austin Preview starts at the beginning

3 min readOct 14, 2014


Over the next three decades, the world population will urbanize at a rapid pace: growing from 3.9 billion today to 6 billion in 2050. Urban planners around the world are seeking fresh ideas on how to meet this sustained surge in demand on their cities. Smart development starts with a vision for creating more livable cities that balances the needs of real estate developers and the concerns of residents.

Today, updating zoning codes is an opaque process for everybody involved. City planners propose overlaying new zoning codes on existing codes without the tools to understand the combined codes’ impact on development. Real estate developers face conflicts, ambiguity, and arbitrariness in zoning codes that increase risk, drive up cost, and discourage investment. Residents are left without a clear understanding of changes put in place to support growth and default to supporting the status quo for fear of making a wrong decision.

At Flux we believe that data, analytics, and visualization can help bridge understanding between stakeholders and result in smarter growth and faster development and faster building. The Austin Preview of Flux Metro is an important first step in this direction.

Flux Metro aggregates geographic data from public and private sources to build a three dimensional visualization, starting with downtown Austin. Alongside a rendering of the existing landscape, Metro shows what can be built on a lot or parcel under the zoning code. It considers more than 10,000 code sections for land use guidelines, height limits, floor area limits, setbacks, and view access rights as well as the locations of protected trees and daylight shadows to project what can be built and how it fits into the existing environment.

Flux Metro considers land use guidelines, height limits, floor area limits, setbacks, view access corridors, and the locations of protected trees to project what can be built on a city lot.

In order to fully interpret the code sections, Metro needs to understand the relationships among parcels, streets, sightlines, watersheds, elevation, and other geographic features. Typically this process takes an expert hours to complete for a single parcel; Metro can recompute an entire neighborhood in seconds.

We believe that everybody should be able to understand what a zoning code means for their city and that visual representations are the best way to create a shared understanding.

We built Flux Metro on the web to make sure the visualizations and stories they tell have reach. Construction happens faster when residents can easily see and understand zoning and development. Projects move forward reliably when the brokers, developers, architects, investors, and city planners have a shared understanding of what is being built. Making this information accessible through the web means greater understanding and more livable cities.

The same principles that improve site selection can improve all aspects of zoning, building, and construction. With cities becoming increasingly dense, each new construction and zoning change impacts more people — municipalities and developers need better ways to explain what is happening. At the same time data and analytics must be used to reduce the costs needed to construct buildings that are increasingly complex and interwoven with services to meet the demands of a growing population.

Flux Metro Austin Preview is available today.