Open Data for Urban Mobility Planning and Climate Shelters: In Conversation with Maurizio Napolitano

Open Data for Urban Mobility Planning and Climate Shelters: In Conversation with Maurizio Napolitano

Maurizio Napolitano is a technologist at the Bruno Kessler Foundation in Trento and is currently the Head of the Digital Commons Lab (DCL). In this regard, his primary focus lies in the development of policies, actions, and software related to open data. He also contributes to academia by teaching Geospatial Analysis as part of the Data Science Master’s program at the University of Trento.

In his role, he has organized and delivered numerous courses for journalists, academics, public administrators, and innovators, covering a diverse range of socio-technical subjects, including data analysis, data visualization, geospatial analysis, open data, and effective communication.

Outside of academia, he has had the privilege of speaking at various science dissemination events, including Repubblica-Next, World Wide Rome-Open Science, TEDxTrento, TEDxSiena, TEDxPotenza, and City Vision. These experiences have allowed him to share his insights and expertise with a diverse audience.

In his leisure time, he is passionate about civic hacking, particularly creating maps of smart cities. This intersection of technology, data, and community engagement drives his enthusiasm for his work.

Q: What open data would facilitate urban mobility planning?

MN: Urban planning relies on two key types of data: Infrastructure data for roads, sidewalks, and points of interest… and usage data such as the counts of cars, bikes, pedestrian traffic, use and utilization of shared vehicles, public transport, and more. Unfortunately, open data in these categories is scarce. 

Road infrastructure data is somewhat more accessible, yet it comes with limitations tied to how public administrations collect and manage it. Typically, only roads under their jurisdiction are considered, and data is tailored solely for their original purpose, lacking a broader perspective (e.g., the data on sidewalks is without width).

Usage data for these infrastructures is even harder to come by. The challenge isn’t primarily privacy or reluctance but rather a lack of expertise in the dialogue with the service providers contracted by public administrations and a lack of vision regarding data reuse.

Consequently, urban planners are increasingly shifting their focus away from open government data and turning towards alternative sources. These include community-driven data like OpenStreetMap and initiatives like Telraam, as well as data released by multinational corporations. This transition is driven by the need for more comprehensive and accessible data to enhance urban planning analyses. The integration of the different sources is the best way.

Q: What are the critical issues found in the level of interoperability and integration of open data?

MN: The recent issue with open data lies in the disproportionate emphasis on “open” rather than “data.” While “open” conveys notions of reuse, participation, transparency, and collaboration, it demands significant effort. Conversely, focusing on “data” directs attention to sustainability and quality analysis processes, and this is the right way to produce quality: we must first think about having good data and later open it.

Currently, open data operates somewhat independently, detached from public administration’s data production processes. Non-governmental open data sources play a pivotal role in bridging this gap.

Although strides have been made in addressing format and distribution service interoperability, challenges persist in establishing shared vocabularies. Achieving higher levels of standardization is a costly endeavor and can be obtained only if there are tangible benefits from open data releases. Do you want a high benefit? Please release open data of high quality.

Well-documented data facilitate interoperability and integration, but the path to comprehensive standardization hinges on benefiting from open data initiatives.

Q: Please describe your work on climate shelters and the application of open data.

MN: Climate change signals the urgency for collective action. Rising temperatures and urban development have exacerbated heat issues in cities, forming heat islands. Ground-based sensors and data from resources like NASA’s ECOSTRESS satellite radiometer, which measures temperature at high accuracy for 70-meter cells, underscore these challenges. They also pinpoint vulnerable areas and functional solutions.

In urban settings, climate shelters, like parks, promenades, and tree-lined avenues, are vital. Strengthening them involves thoughtful tree selection, prioritizing native species, ensuring access to drinking water for people and water sources for wildlife, and creating small hills or valleys where possible. Infrastructure materials, such as paths and canopies, require careful consideration.

Currently, my focus is on presenting existing data to identify opportunities for action and raise awareness on this topic. This includes not only enhancing climate shelters but also establishing accessible routes to reach them. Support extends to private green spaces, fostering a comprehensive approach to climate resilience.