Engaging Uptown: Why?

Data plays a huge role in the decision making on a city-wide downtown level. It provides a real-time snapshot of how people are interacting with the downtown core, showing the most frequently visited places in the downtown and the frequent times of traffic flow throughout the downtown. Why does this matter? In a nutshell, it lends to more informed decision making and better financial planning on a city-wide level. This data however, can trickle down to help specific businesses and citizens, as demonstrated through the stakeholders identified in this project. Through this Pattern of Life Data Project, we will assist the city and downtown association by providing more information to base decisions off of, result in a stronger Uptown core and local economy.


Interview With Nancy Tissington

Uptown Saint John

Businesses across Atlantic Canada are recognizing the inherent value that lies in data, both open and private. As savvy business owners, they are able to collect and manage data to proactively manage their spend efforts while creating repeat customers. The data that can be provided to these small business owners is pretty well endless, and some of the  best businesses in the area are taking full advantage. They are using these data sets today, to collect data about consumer behaviour for further business analysis leading to smart investments.
Saint John, in particular, has a secret weapon when it comes to data and that can be found in their Uptown Saint John Executive Director, data expert extraordinaire, Nancy Tissington. We sat down with Nancy to discuss the value that she sees in open data. 

Q: What is the mandate and purpose of Uptown Saint John?

Uptown Saint John is a Business Improvement Association that supports and empowers the businesses within our community to thrive. Our mandate on a more specific level is:

  • Advocacy
  • Beautification
  • Clean & Safe Streets
  • Marketing & Promotion
  • Urban Design & Development

Q: How does technology enable you to have a stronger Uptown Saint John core? What is the role of data in that story?

The impact of technology on my operations is huge! The cloud beacons used in this project in particular, are extremely helpful in enabling us (Uptown SJ) to meet our mission. By collecting real-time data on pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow through the Uptown, I’m able to validate so many of my business cases, for example:

We’ve had an issue with our sidewalks getting quite dirty, you know – seagulls, heavy traffic flow, etc. To try and combat this, we requested to get some funding for a new sidewalk sweeper with the city. With this data collected from the cloud beacons, we’re able to understand the volume of pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow, which helps us know when the sidewalks need to be cleaned. This provides a huge validation as to why we need this sweeper; we can show how many people are walking down on it on an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly basis. This data directly impacts our ability to achieve our mandate of a fresh and clean uptown core, with the data to back the dollars.

Another huge value of this data is for policing. I mean, we can have a general idea/guesstimate of the number of people out at the bars or festival, but we don’t necessarily know where they go throughout the uptown afterwards. Because we don’t have an exact idea of the egress, we don’t know how often the police should/shouldn’t be policing the area. With this cloud beacon data, we’re able to get an exact idea of the number of people in the Uptown after a night at the bars, or after a festival. When I go to the police force, I’m able to make a solid case as to why we need more/less police officers because I have the numbers to back it up.

These operational aspects of the work we do at Uptown Saint John are extremely valuable – think about the cleanliness of the streets, the businesses that are in the Uptown, the security, the aesthetic appeal, the economic stimulation – so much of the decisions that we make regarding these points, and our mandate, are only validated through the collection of real-time pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow.  By spending our dollars through data-back decision making, we’re able to leverage the use of our funds to have a wider spread and impact.

The last example that comes to mind (not there aren’t more) with the use of this data, is in determining where businesses should set up shop. Because I am able to see the traffic flow, understanding the busy spots and times in the Uptown, I am able to justify why certain locations are ideal for certain businesses that are looking to open their doors in Uptown Saint John. Of course I won’t know the general demographics, but I will have a strong grasp on how people are interacting with the Uptown.

Q: What data sets are most important to Uptown Saint John?

Datasets related to economic impact are definitely the most important to us. To have the foot traffic data to differentiate the spending between employees who work in the uptown versus people who are visiting the uptown specifically to shop or eat would be incredibly valuable to us. Not only is this valuable for us to understand who is shopping in the uptown, it’s what pulls people to come uptown for spending versus spending for convenience during the day, this also leads back to the value of the square footage of different locations within the uptown core.

A second important aspect for us is the walkability score of a business. If someone comes to the Uptown from the cruise ships, the walkability to various businesses will have a huge impact on where they choose to spend their dollars.

Q: Do you think there is a correlation between open data sets and a more resilient economy? If yes, why? If no, why?

Without hesitation, yes. With open data, we can make more informed decisions, decisions that are generally tied a dollar value. This then enables us stretch dollars further because we can justify the exact reasoning behind the spending. Open data is directly linked to financial responsibility.

Nancy’s job is to ensure success for the businesses in the uptown, and it’s clear from above that Nancy uses data on a daily basis to determine trends and how they impact these businesses success. This smart data use speaks volume to the success of many businesses in Saint John, and those businesses who have jumped on the data train seem to thrive.
To see business who’ve enhanced their business with data, click here.

Other BIA’s/DTA’s That Are Using Open Data

Business Improvement Agencies represent the core of every local business community, and their job is to provide resources to ensure the success of every new and old business alike. As you can imagine, this is no small feat, and the BIA’s that are most successful are those that have begun to use data while strategizing for the future. As we see government data sets being opened up and made accessible to the public, we begin to witness a rise in creativity from BIA’s on how they are used . It is these various data sets that aid BIA’s in making smarter business investments that result in spurring the economy into fast growth mode.

Our Top 5 Business Improvement Agencies Leveraging Data:

Downtown New Haven


“At DataHaven, our mission is to improve quality of life by collecting, interpreting and sharing public data for effective decision-making. We have served Greater New Haven and Connecticut as a nonprofit organization since 1992, working with many partners to develop reports, tools, and technical assistance programs that make information more useful to local communities.”


Toronto Financial District BIA

“Raising the Standard – Using Data to Improve Public Realm Management”

“Over the past three years, the Toronto Financial District BIA (FDBIA) has leveraged technology to address these concerns through programs based on real-time data of occurrences in the district, enabling the BIA to work directly with responsible agencies to remedy issues related to maintenance and public realm compliance, as well as develop improved models to address by-law enforcement in critical areas and share information with relevant agencies to improve collaboration and service delivery.”


Downtown Halifax


“Since January 2014, Downtown Halifax Business Commission (DHBC), Spring Garden Area Business Association, and Waterfront Development have been collecting pedestrian count information at 10 locations, through 10 Eco-Counter electronic pedestrian devices.”


Downtown Pittsburgh

Envision Downtown

“Envision’s mission is to advance mobility and livability in Pittsburgh’s central neighborhoods, by making it safer, more attractive and convenient for everyone to get to, through and around Downtown. The initiative leverages a team of committed civic leaders and a robust data development program to implement a series of short-term, accelerated infrastructure projects with the goal of informing longer-term transformation changes to the City’s mobility networks.” 

City of Boston

Boston 311

(While this initiative is not directly through the Boston BIA- we love the concept so much that we decided to include it!) “BOS:311, formerly known as Citizens Connect, is a cutting-edge, full-featured tool for enabling Boston’s residents to improve their neighborhoods by reporting issues such as potholes and graffiti.”


Open Data Index: What factors make a city savvy with open data?

“The Open Cities Index has been created as a supplementary guide for cities looking to initiate or advance their open data programs. Until now, municipalities have lacked a reference point for what types of data to make available to the public, in what format, and at what frequency. The Open Cities Index benchmarks 34 municipalities on 107 variables, providing a detailed comparison of open data programs across regions and provinces/territories. The Open Cities Index measures the readiness, implementation, and impact of the participating cities’ open data initiatives.”

  • Readiness: To what extent is the municipality ready/capable of fostering positive outcomes through its open data initiative?
  • Implementation: To what extent has the city fulfilled its open data goals and ultimately, what data has it posted online?
  • Impact: To what extent has the posted information been used, what benefits has the city accrued as a result of its open data program, and to what extent is the city capable of measuring the impact?


Is that type of data available online, is it machine readable, is it available for free, is it up to date, or is it unavailable? A meaningful and comprehensive open data program will include up to date data sets that are available online for free in a format that is machine readable, facilitating the analysis and reuse of data by the general public and developers.

With open data being a relatively new responsibility for municipal governments, limited progress has been made in most communities in Canada to launch or advance open data portals or initiatives. The Open Cities Top Ten are trailblazers, working to develop the most efficient and effective open data programs despite limited resources.”

READ MORE: http://codx.ca/news/

Additional Content


World Council on City Data

Discovering solutions for our rapidly urbanizing planet, the World Council on City Data (WCCD) is the global leader in standardized city data – creating smart, sustainable, resilient, and prosperous cities.

The WCCD hosts a network of innovative cities committed to improving services and quality of life with open city data and provides a consistent and comprehensive platform for standardized urban metrics. The WCCD is a global hub for creative learning partnerships across cities, international organizations, corporate partners, and academia to further innovation, envision alternative futures, and build better and more liveable cities.

As a global leader on standardized metrics, the WCCD is implementing ISO 37120 Sustainable Development of Communities: Indicators for City Services and Quality of Life, the new international standard; created by cities, for cities. The WCCD has developed the first ISO 37120 certification system and the Global Cities Registry™.

Learn More