Creating District Typologies for Urban Impact Measurement

By Sean Grant

While most impact measurement systems created for an urban environment focus on assessing projects carried out at a particular site or within a discreet area, some are intended to measure the success of citywide initiatives. But like cities themselves, individual districts possess their own unique characteristics and internal dynamics that can make it difficult to accurately measure outcomes across an entire city using a single set of performance metrics.

Harbord Street, a ‘Main Street’ BIA

Duke Heights, a ‘Mixed-Form Commercial’ BIA.

S+G Urban Partners has recently completed the development of a Performance Measurement Toolkit  that will be used by Toronto’s Business Improvement Areas to evaluate their capital projects and programs. This project not only presented our team with the challenge of developing a system for measuring the impact of multiple citywide initiatives, but also required the establishment of a methodological framework flexible enough to be utilized across Toronto’s diverse districts.

To successfully deliver the Toolkit, we created 11 sets of district typologies which accurately represent the diverse socio-economic, institutional, and spatial characteristics of Toronto’s Business Improvement Areas. These typologies provided our team with the framework required for the design and selection of performance metrics appropriate for the unique circumstances of each BIA. With each typology set divided into tiers representing the degree to which a district’s characteristics impact metric selection and data interpretation, the team could provide Toolkit users with cautionary notes or alternate metrics when a BIA’s typology tier – for instance, the degree to which district patrons, residents, and members utilize social media – deviated from the norm.  

However, more is required than the selection of metrics and the creation of interpretive tools when developing an effective performance measurement system. Equally important – and far more challenging within a citywide framework – is the design of measurement methods that will produce data which accurately represents outcomes in each district. To ensure that the Toolkit provides its users with data collection procedures and tools that match the particular circumstances of each individual BIA, the project team employed a combination of on-site method testing and agent-based modeling.

This approach is especially effective when dealing with spatially-defined typologies, such as built-form, and the project team carried out live-testing of data collection and measurement methodologies in a selection of BIAs representing each of the built-form typologies, as well as various district sizes. These results were then subjected to further testing using agent-based modelling that simulated the use of the tested methodologies across all Toronto BIAs. 

As a result of this process, the Toolkit provides users with alternative data collection methods and tools when, for example, the accuracy of patron traffic and activity observation data is compromised by measurements taken in a BIA with the complex ‘Mixed-Commercial’ typology, instead of within a BIA characterized by the baseline ‘Main-Street’ built-form. 

These district typologies were critical to successfully developing the Toronto BIA Performance Toolkit, and should be employed when developing impact & performance measurement systems for citywide initiatives, or for any project or social enterprise that seeks to create meaningful change in diverse urban settings.

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