Photography by:
  • Imraan Hendricks & Mark Momberg

Data smart GCR

There is an increasing world-wide focus on smart cities, and both big and open data, as a means to address the challenges of rapid urbanisation and enhance the lives of citizens. There is, however, no single definition for a smart city with a broad consensus of smart cities as being intelligent, wired, innovative, entrepreneurial and progressive. A fundamental consideration for any smart city is that smart cities are driven by data – but what does this mean for local and provincial government in a city-region constrained by limited technical resources, disparate and non-integrated planning systems, and inaccessible data? To address this, the project unpacks what the idea of ‘smart-city’ means for the Gauteng City-Region (GCR) within a developing city-region, with specific reference to data as the pillar of any smart analysis or smart planning.

The key research question to be explored is: how can the GCR become data smart? International initiatives providing context include organisations such as the London Datastore (, providing easily accessible free data for the public to use; and the European iCity project, which aims to develop smart city services for the citizens in partnership with the private and public sector ( A recent PhD research topic published by the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis posed the question “Can open access to a city’s data feed and infrastructure create a positive impact on its inhabitants, influence policy and enhance sustainability, well-being and cross cultural interaction?” This is especially relevant in the GCR context, but at the same time there is a dire need to get the basics right within government in terms of data access and professional GIS resourcing.

The project will therefore, initially focus on supporting the Gauteng Planning Division’s efforts to establish a corporate GIS and central spatial database (traditionally referred to as the GeoGCR database). Research will be undertaken to document international best practices for a regional GIS, in the context of South African spatial data legislation and initiatives. This includes options for a regional Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) and assessing open data policies and technologies. Local government will also be consulted to work towards a truly cross platform, multi-government and multi-departmental open data system that will benefit all GCR citizens.

A second component of this project is GCRO’s participation with an open data problem solving application development competition to be run by the Corporate Geo-Informatics Department in the City of Johannesburg. The basic idea is to present a few problems the City is currently experiencing, with contestants developing a spatially-based application using open data. Esri South Africa will also partner with this initiative and provide software and a hosting environment. It is envisaged the competition will culminate in the final selection and prize giving at the Esri Africa conference, to be held in Johannesburg in November 2016. The competition will serve as an excellent pilot project to gauge both public interest and success of an open data competition.

The project responds directly to a number of key provincial government priorities – such as the modernisation of the state, governance and public service – by promoting new sources of data, analysis and advanced technological innovations, and encouraging the ideals of a coordinated, integrated, open data system for the GCR.


In August 2015 the GCRO took part in the Fak'ugesi Digital Africa Festival. The GCRO hosted a one day symposium and exhibition to debate concepts of a smart city and what this means for the GCR. The symposium included both academic contributions and discussions with local and provincial government. The exhibition that followed highlighted the various digital platforms in the GCRO’s expanding urban data gallery, including the GCRO GIS website and ward profile viewer and Esri’s urban observatory website. These were displayed on touch screens, providing visitors with an interactive experience of the GCR. The exhibition also included new data visualisations of GCRO’s data by Wits Digital Arts’ students.

View a short video summary of the Fak'ugesi Festival 2015 here:



Wray, C. (2015) ‘An open data revolution for the Gauteng City-Region?’, (African Centre for Cities, Cape Town).


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