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You would have to be living under a very large rock not to have noticed the housing crisis in Canada. Skyrocketing prices, labyrinthine planning processes and a seemingly insurmountable backlog—it’s a tale as old as time, or at least as old as the past decade. Enter Esri Canada, a company that’s been mapping the country for 40 years, and now plans to help us navigate the housing crisis with a game-changing acquisition.

On a typical day, Esri’s geographic information system (GIS) helps governments, business and educational institutions make informed decisions about where to build, how to determine property taxes and even from where to send emergency services for a 911 caller in real time. Evolving with the times, Esri recently set its sights on correcting a planning and development process stuck in the era of paper permits and opaque zoning maps. The key to expediting housing development and creating more affordable housing, according to Esri Canada founder and president Alex Miller, is to democratize access to the information that makes it possible.

“Right now, it’s a very information opaque-business,” says Miller. “You have to be an expert to understand how to navigate the system, and policy-makers are getting bogged down in the details. That’s when we found Ratio.City, a company that’s tackling exactly this. They’re asking the same question we are: How do I make information more transparent to the complete supply chain of players, from the people who buy land to developers themselves, planners, the people who issue and inspect permits, and the bankers who finance projects?”

Founded by two architects with a passion for untangling the planning web, Ratio.City focuses on developers, which they consider an underserved market in terms of data-transparency. It was perfectly complementary to Esri’s focus on government organizations. According to Miller, it’s a jackpot in the world of corporate acquisitions. The Ratio.City team brought in not just their innovative ideas but records so immaculate they would make a librarian blush.

One of Ratio.City’s contribution’s is the ability to import open data directly into a widely shareable database. Their user-friendly platform, aptly described by Miller as “no assembly required, batteries included,” is purpose-built for ease of use. Even laypeople can grasp the intricacies of planning data after about an hour of training.

Will the acquisition actually move the needle on solving the housing crisis? That remains to be seen, but Miller is optimistic. “We need a solution that cuts across multiple levels of government, utilities companies, transit, telecom, and so on. We need to connect the players; they need a common informational system to make coordinated decisions,” says Miller. “With Ratio.City, that’s what we’re building.”

With this acquisition, Esri’s ultimate goal is to make planning a bottom-up process driven by data. In that sense, it represents the best of what an acquisition can mean for a company—the strategic procurement of new competencies to solve complex problems. When it’s for the common good—well, all the better.

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