Skip to main content

Good data gives the confidence to do new things. An evidence base provides a platform to transform an idea into reality. It’s a solid foundation and comfort for people to make decisions about doing things differently.

– Mary Haverland, Senior Technical Director at Arcadis

In partnership with our global community, Place Intelligence is building a shared practice for evidence-based design and place-based decision making by leveraging good data for real work impact.

The extraordinary people we work with combine a love of data with valuable skills, knowledge and sector expertise. We call them our Data Heroes – practitioners who are embracing data to show real leadership in evidence based design and decision making.

Here we talk with Mary Haverland, Senior Technical Director at Arcadis

BONNIE: Hi I’m Bonnie Shaw, Co-founder at Place Intelligence. Today I’m thrilled to be talking with Mary Haverland – one of our earliest collaborators – who has been a driving force behind some of our most advanced transport analytics projects. Hello and welcome, Mary.

MARY: Thanks Bonnie. I work as a Senior Technical Director in Arcadis, a global engineering consultancy, where I specialise in transport planning and advisory. I’ve been in this field for over 25 years, with a particular focus in strategy and policy. I work nationally with clients across Australia, to develop policies and strategies that make our urban environments and regional environments better to move around in.

BONNIE: We’ve worked together on a number of projects now and I’ve always been so impressed by your clarity and focus – could you share a little about what drives your passion for your work?

MARY: I’m most passionate about the outcomes. And in particular, outcomes around equity and access to our environments – creating beautiful environments that all people are invited to share, and making all people’s journeys comfortable.

That really drives what I do at the end of the day. I love working with the public sector in that respect, because of the reach and responsibility that they have to deliver to everyone.

BONNIE: If you think back over your career, about the projects that you’re most proud of, what are some common themes?

MARY: There’s a clear common theme that goes back many years to – like most brilliant ideas – a conversation in a pub in London. It’s where I first heard the concept of Link and Place, which evolved to become known as “Movement and Place”.

It began by looking at our roads and streets and transport network and saying: they’re not just networks for moving people around. These are valuable public spaces, and we need to design and manage and plan for them as such, so that they are places where people can not only have a great journey through, but they can also be a place to stop and dwell. 

That early Movement and Place work was part of a Network Management Planning project for Transport for London. Ten years later, it evolved in Sydney, and became part of the Roads Planning Framework for Transport for New South Wales, which evolved into the Movement and Place policy.

That work linked to another project revising the Transport Strategy in Canberra that introduced Movement and Place as an element.

Over the last ten years, through each of these projects, I’ve seen an industry change direction. It’s not just the project being delivered, not just a single piece of infrastructure, not just a single service, but a wholesale change. That shift has been particularly apparent over the last five years in Australia.

It’s a genuinely meaningful shift in how we develop, how we design, how we plan our cities with people at the centre of decision making. It’s pretty exciting to think that you’ve played a real part in that change.

BONNIE: You’ve played such a critical role in shaping how we think about transport infrastructure in place – how did you start with working with Place Intelligence.

MARY: It was actually perfect matchmaking by a fabulous client. They were saying: We love the policy and strategy work that you’re doing, particularly in Movement and Place. We can see that you’ve got lots of movement data, but less data when it comes to place. We know this awesome company who can bring activity analytics and insights. If we can match the policy and strategy that you’re working on with some of the evidence that Place Intelligence can bring, then we could have a really awesome outcome. 

Back then, there were a few players in this space doing data visualisation, but Place Intelligence was different. First of all, because you have an urban planning background, you combine an appreciation and shared understanding of the outcomes that a project is trying to achieve. That’s paired with your verified supply chain of data and cutting edge technology and systems to extract deep insight and visualise them in powerful ways.

The way you work also sets you apart – you work with us – we’re not just asking for a mindless product, but you actually share the process – that’s a bit exciting.

I was also drawn to the ethics of Place intelligence. In a time where policy and regulation has been slower to catch up to what’s possible in this space, the ethics of the people I work with is very important.

When I first met Norion (Place Intelligence CEO) I was impressed by his huge respect for privacy and protection of personal data. He has always started from a position that was grounded not just in what can you legally do, but what is the ethical approach.

I had a lot of respect for that from the beginning, and I’ve seen that approach continue as the company has grown.

BONNIE: Thank you – it’s so powerful to hear you articulate that, because that’s a position we take very seriously in considering our role as stewards of this data.

So what are some of the projects that you have worked on with Place intelligence?

MARY: I’ve worked with Place Intelligence in a range of different roles.

It started with a project in Canberra looking at evaluating place outcomes in transport service delivery. We sought to establish a series of metrics to quantify and measure place outcomes to inform strategy and policy. You guys provided data and insights that contributed to meaningful place measurement outcomes.

From there we did another piece of work with a focus on comparative analytics – looking at William Slim Drive, which was a very traditional road project. It was looking at what sort of activity metrics could be measured – other than traditional traffic monitoring – and how that could provide insight on activity, or the absence of activity.

This was contrasted with analysis on another part of the Canberra network (which had recently had a new light rail constructed) to compare the differences in activity between two quite different types of infrastructure investment.

The most exciting project was a recent one, working on the Movement and Place Framework for Transport for New South Wales. Together we contributed to the development of a framework for mapping and assessing Place Intensity.

We developed a methodology to classify place and place intensity, looking at ways to codify the different elements of built environment, character, meaning, and of course, activity. And then applied this framework to a range of specific pilot projects to support a scalable model to influence the whole transport network in NSW.

And then recently, I’ve been enjoying the fruits of your labour on the Westmead Place Strategy, where we had you do some activity analysis. But your work also contributed to the insights about place and activity and what people were doing in Westmead. And so that really helped with that study as well.

BONNIE: So how do you see your clients and other collaborators engage with the data? How are they using it?

MARY: It can be really exciting when you see a client thinking differently because of an insight that Place Intelligence has provided.

Being able to present Place Data on an equal platform to a traffic model to an engineer who’s making a decision is really powerful. Because we do have that cardinal bias in our industry. Whereas before, place has always been a bit soft and fluffy and something that designers talk about, translating it into that cardinal numerical language that economists and engineers use is very powerful.

It often comes back to what drives me personally – looking for equity in our built environment. So often, the data and the insight that Place Intelligence produces can open our clients eyes up to that. And you do see that sort of clicking “Aha!” moments.

The other way that’s very interesting is that often our clients think that they’re asking the right questions. And sometimes you’ll come back to them, not with an answer, but with a conversation. For example: “You’ve asked us about activity in this area, but have you considered how the activity in the area next to it influences what’s happening here, or the magnetism between where this place is situated, compared to the wider regional area as well?

I have seen clients – when they’re deeply focused about delivering a precinct study or a project in a specific area – lose that peripheral or contextual frame of reference. But the insights that Place Intelligence provide can widen the lens – because you’re talking about people travelling, and that doesn’t end at the project or site boundary.

We’ve seen this in effect on the Sydney Central Station Precinct, where we’re looking at door to door travel patterns. The traditional study area would draw a line around the station and just look at that. But of course, people travel to Sydney Central from all over the place – and you’re able to bring that door to door experience into the design of what would traditionally be a very small geographic study.

BONNIE: And so how does that then have an impact in project decision making? Where do you then take that data to influence or change decisions in your work?

MARY: Place Intelligence data helps to shift thinking and change decisions from: “How do we accommodate vehicles, trains or bicycles?” to “How do we better accommodate people?” It really transitions the project from delivering a piece of infrastructure to delivering a journey experience for people.

Those insights can make a real difference in understanding customers and audience cohorts – not all customers need the same products. By understanding them as people, not just a trip from A to B, it changes the product that you design at the end.

BONNIE: And so how are you seeing clients respond to that?

MARY: First, there’s always excitement. Then there are two paths you can take.

For some the next stage is: “OH MY GOD. What am I supposed to do with this information? Let’s just push it aside and deliver what we have to deliver on time to budget and get it done now.

And there are those who want to come on the journey with you and embrace it and let it influence the project. The clients who go: “Right let’s step back a moment and rethink what we”re doing here”. From there, it may be that they end up delivering something ahead of budget or ahead of time because they changed track.

But you will have different types of clients and so their reactions will be different.

BONNIE: So this brings us back to the common topic of how do you effectively use data for impact. It’s something we’re super passionate about here – ensuring that the people we work with have the skills to effectively leverage these tools for maximum impact.

What you’re describing reminds me of the classic double diamond – introducing this data can open up the conversation, add more complexity. But then it can also help you to converge as well and make critical decisions.

And in any program of work there will be points where you want to go wide and explore options. But when you’re trying to converge and consolidate and simplify, you want to make sure that you’re not introducing a whole lot of new information at that point, otherwise, people aren’t going to respond well.

MARY: Yes – there is an element in the Movement and Place work that I call a refraction lens – and Transport for New South Wales presents it as a design diamond.

When we’re designing a transport network, we’re typically going to start with a place based vision, but then I want you to crack it open and tell me about the movement. Tell me about the place elements of this area. Tell me about the journey. Tell me about the different types of activity.

The art is then being able to converge back into What does this mean as a Transport Agency? What actions do you need to do to contribute to achieving this place-based vision?

And there really is an art to refracting and filtering. For example – these are all important elements but these specific ones here are the ones that you can take action on. These are the ones that you can influence. These are the ones that you need to partner on, or advocate for.

It’s all very well to provide the infrastructure, but if there’s no program, if you haven’t sparked the community to use this piece of infrastructure, how is it going to be successful? Working with clients to understand that the outcome of a transport project isn’t just going to be a transport action plan. But now there is going to be an urban realm program, there is going to be an activity and community engagement project that goes with those elements as well.

BONNIE: So there seems to be a real art to introducing the data at the right times in a project or program of work. It’s interesting to think about how the insights can be surfaced both in specific project contexts, but also earlier and more widely.

MARY: A couple of interesting projects that we have been doing in Melbourne have stretched the concept from Movement and Place, to People Place and Movement. At the starting point of that has been the work that the Victorian Department of Transport has been doing in setting up their customer personas.

The common thread through this is the human experience, not just a geographical place, or a point in time on a project. You know, we talked about this great responsibility that we have as planners, because we’re laying out the fabric of a city that will be there for a very, very long time – that generations of people will use – but it’s the people that it’s the common thread.

And that’s how the Place Intelligence work becomes so exciting – because previously, we only had data about inanimate objects and vehicles that move backwards and forwards. Having data insights and information about people makes what we’re doing far more powerful. But how do we catalogue that? How do we continue that thread so it doesn’t finish when the product finishes? I think that’s a great challenge that we have in industry.

A lot of the projects I work on are with people who are very process driven, very data driven, and being able to bring your work and translate human experience and activity into a language that is understood, and can be put on a page or put on the same graph as an inanimate object or as an economic trend is incredibly powerful.

BONNIE: What do you think the most significant challenges are for cities today and into the near future?

MARY: The one I’m most passionate about is equity. I see this is such a great challenge, I see a widening gap between people – people who own property and people who don’t have investment in the land economy.

I see a widening gap between people who are hooked in and part of the digital economy and people who’ve been left behind. And there is a great risk that when we design and plan based on digital information, we make sure that it includes everyone.

And so I think for our cities, we’re going through the digital revolution, just as we went through the Industrial Revolution, and the great challenge for our cities is how we embrace the opportunities that it provides, but also recognise the challenges that are there as well.

BONNIE: What are the top three things you think could be done to address that in the work that you’re doing?

MARY: Okay, if I was dictator for a day with an unlimited budget, what would I change to make the urban environment better?

  1. Get more sustainable in our decision making. Not just designing for a particular community or a particular point in time, but looking at how those decisions will influence the community tomorrow, and the neighbouring communities as well. Thinking more broadly, not just at a project by project scale.
  2. Make sure we understand the problem or the issue before jumping to a solution. Being more open minded at the beginning of a process, or even better, appreciating that we’re not even at the beginning of a process that’s continuously ongoing. Accepting that there isn’t an ideal planning cycle, you will always jump in the middle. So being prepared to jump in the middle. And acknowledging that that means that you can’t go in with a definite idea of what the outcomes are going to be. I think we need to be more open minded.
  3. Balance up the spending between transport and places. It comes back to a conversation I had in Singapore with the government agency there and they said: We admire the level of investment in all the major transport projects in Australia. But how can you be doing that in isolation without a similar level of investment in housing? Or having a social benefits education program? How can your funding be so uneven? So I think for me, my third thing would be to balance out some of our public investments.

BONNIE: And so with those three things, how do you think good data could help?

MARY: The data brings broader insight to what we do – it helps to widen the lens to understand a problem better.

Good data gives the confidence to do new things. An evidence base provides a platform to transform an idea into reality. It’s a solid foundation and comfort for people to make decisions about doing things differently.

Stay up to date with
Place Intelligence.

Sign up to our newsletter for updates on our latest research, events and community.

5/71 Rose St, Fitzroy, Melbourne VIC, 3065

San Francisco

Level 7, 650 California St, San Francisco, CA, 94108


Level 1, 6-14 Underwood St, London, N1 7JQ