Brussels Environment pushes back the frontiers of public green space mapping
There is no sound policy without sound data. That’s why Brussels Environment, the environmental and energy administration of the Brussels Capital Region, is increasingly committed to monitoring and improving its data quality. With technical support from IT partner Nordend, the government institution managed to completely restore its database of public green spaces. ‘On this renewed foundation we can now build further,’ explains Mathias Engelbeen, Environmental Data Coordinator at the Green Spaces Department.
Engelbeen is one of more than 1,300 employees at Brussels Environment. Together with his colleagues, he is committed to making the Capital Region more resilient to climate change and to accelerate the transition to a more environmentally sustainable society. ‘The importance of green space cannot be underestimated in this regard,’ he notes. ‘While we help map all that space, we don’t necessarily manage it. Much of it falls under the jurisdiction of the Brussels municipalities and other regional government departments such as Brussels Mobility.’
‘For us it was not only important to improve our database structurally. We also wanted to be able to maintain and further develop it for the future. That’s why it was a good thing that a party like Nordend was also included in the development.’
The number of parties involved in green space management explains the need to think outside the boxes of your own organisation and to involve external partners. All the more so because Brussels Environment is responsible for defining, preparing and implementing regional policy in all areas related to the environment. ‘We not only collect, process and manage data on green spaces, natural areas and diversity, but also on noise, soil pollution and water, for example,’ explains Engelbeen.
All that geodata is currently stored in one big PostGIS database, so Brussels Environment decided to develop a new data model to better manage data on public green spaces in the Brussels region. They turned to FME developer Nordend for technical support, who joined forces with Brussels engineering firm BRAT for this public contract. ‘That consortium had emerged as the best candidate from our public tender,’ Mathias Engelbeen explains. ‘We chose them because of their proven technical expertise combined with their solid urban planning advice.’
‘For us it was not only important to improve our database structurally. We also wanted to be able to maintain and further develop it in the future,’ the GIS developer continues. ‘That’s why it was so good to have Nordend included in the development. From the outset, we wanted to be able to provide all the necessary technical support.’
For Engelbeen, the importance of quality in the management of geodata has never been greater. ‘We want to be able to update our data properly. We also want to work with the right attributes. And we want to have a clear view of what data, if any, we can combine to best generate information about our green spaces.’ Ensuring this level of quality in a central database is not easy, because experience shows that it is always inevitably linked to all kinds of restrictions and obligations. ‘There are just certain things you have to take into account when you want to go from a test phase to a production phase, for example. These are things that an IT service usually expects as part of ‘deployment management’, but which you should still factor in very carefully at the beginning of your project. And you had better be ready to provide the necessary expertise.’
‘We chose Nordend and BRAT because of their proven technical expertise combined with their solid urban planning advice.’
New data model
With Nordend, Environment Brussels brought in an experienced specialist in FME development. In addition to an ETL solution for data integration, transformation and analysis, developed by Safe Software, Nordend also uses PostGIS, QGIS and other open source platforms to optimise processes. Thus, after analysing existing geodata, the company set up a new data model in PostGIS, along with a QGIS environment in which Brussels Environment could easily maintain the new model. For this purpose, Nordend created forms that also allowed relationships between objects to be established.
In a follow-up assignment, Nordend expanded the new data model in PostGIS for all green spaces accessible to the public. That expansion proved far-reaching enough to involve several additional stakeholders, who were brought in through workshops in this second phase of the project. ‘These stakeholders often had their own vision of the green spaces,’ Mathias Engelbeen recalls. ‘To include their needs, we had to expand the initial data model.’ One such need was to provide a method by which external partners, such as the 19 Brussels municipalities or Brussels Mobility, could communicate changes in the data.
Brussels Environment has had a database of publicly accessible green spaces since 1998. However, the basic data has only been properly updated once since then, in 2008. By 2022, therefore, the existing definition of a green space was in dire need of renewal. Today, a median strip, for example, or a fully paved playground no longer counts as a green space. This new definition was established by Brussels Environment in close collaboration with the BRAT engineering firm.
‘We ended up creating a new dataset based on the old one. In doing so, we used FME to convert our data model. At the same time, using those same FME tools, we also created a workflow that will allow us to automatically update our dataset from now on. This way we can avoid ending up in a situation where our data is once again obsolete. Now that data is supporting the policy and communication of the Brussels region more than ever, we really need to stay up to date,’ concludes Mathias Engelbeen. ‘Now Brussels Environment is ready to map the future.’