Maintaining existing zoning systems using automated zone-design techniques: methods for creating the 2011 Census output geographies for England and Wales
Automated zone-design methods are increasingly being used to create zoning systems for a range of purposes, such as the release of census statistics or the investigation of neighbourhood effects on health. Inevitably, the characteristics originally underpinning the design of a zoning system (eg, population size or homogeneity of the built environment) change through time. Rather than designing a completely new system every time substantive change occurs, or retaining an existing system which will become increasingly unfit for purpose, an alternative is to modify the existing system such that zones which still meet the design criteria are retained, but those which are no longer fit for purpose are split or merged. This paper defines the first generic methodology for the automated maintenance of existing zoning systems. Using bespoke, publicly available, software (AZTool), the methodology is employed to modify the 2001 Census output geographies within six local authority districts in England and Wales in order to make them suitable for the release of contemporary population-related data. Automated maintenance of an existing system is found to be a more iterative and constrained problem than designing a completely new system; design constraints frequently have to be relaxed and manual intervention is occasionally required. Nonetheless, existing zone-design techniques can be successfully adapted and implemented to automatically maintain an existing system. The findings of this paper are of direct relevance both to the Office for National Statistics in their design of the 2011 Census output geographies for England and Wales and to any other countries or organisations seeking to maintain an existing zoning system.
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