The world is rapidly becoming more urbanized, having achieved a milestone of 50% of the population living in cities just a few years ago, this is projected to explode to 70% by 2070. The frenzy of construction that is needed to house millions more in an urban setting comes with a chance to rethink and redesign how we live, making better use of resources, producing a better quality of life, and living more efficiently.
The move toward smart cities promises to bring greater automation, intelligent routing and transportation, better monitoring, and better city management. The enabling trends that coincide with smarter cities include the drive to open up municipal data for more transparent operations, the creation of sensor networks to improve infrastructure monitoring and performance, networked connectivity of the Internet of Things, and the bi-directional communication with citizens regarding city services. In this new data-rich digital interaction, what role will geospatial technologies play?
In light of reduced resources we’ll need cities that make efficient use of water, generate their own energy, and are as close to carbon neutral as possible. There will be a strong need to collect and analyze sensor inputs in order to ensure security, efficient operation, and to reduce environmental impact.
The concept of intelligent infrastructure involves the combination of sensors, network connectivity and software to monitor and analyze inputs for more efficient operations. This concept meshes nicely with advancements in geospatial technology that are moving toward more real-time data inputs, 3d visualization, and the ability to track change over time.The first-generation of geospatial tools have largely addressed asset tracking, answering what is where. Intelligent infrastructure requires the creation of detailed models of our systems and networks, allowing us to answer how and why.
Urban Operating System
Increasingly cities are talking in terms of a single operating system to manage the city, rather than the old IT construct of individual systems for specific services or applications. This change implies greater access and interoperability with an environment that takes in sensor readings and can be queried across different inputs and geographic scales. The inclusion of open data and services APIs (application programming interfaces) is also part of this trend, meaning that businesses and citizens can have their own programs interact and consume data and services from the city.
With the increasing importance of location to provide greater context, mapping will be central to many visualizations of this increasing data volume. The interactive and open web services model for city management and citizen interaction plays right into the latest iteration of web-based mapping, where data and services are compiled online, but also opened up with APIs to embed interactive maps on websites. The ongoing trend to mashup online services, with such real-time inputs as geolocated Tweets, and GeoRSS feeds is a precursor to the types of interactive visualizations that we can come to expect. The era of living maps is starting to take shape.
Designing with Insight
Cities provide opportunities for increased efficiency, but they are also areas of high vulnerability. The rise in temperature could exacerbate the heat island effect of cities that already make them hotter than the surrounding countryside. High energy use, and inefficient water treatment, compound the detrimental impacts of human populations on the environment, particularly in the emerging mega cities in the developing world. These population pressures will only increase, placing great challenges for how we engineer and rejuvenate these areas at costs inline with emerging economies.
Planning and designing these next-generation cities requires a better understanding of how the built world impacts the natural world. With tighter integration between CAD, BIM and GIS, we’re starting to see an increased ability to analyze and design with real-time feedbacks on building and infrastructure performance, even factoring in material costs and available resources. This tight control and understanding of local conditions and available materials will prove necessary to achieve the rapid development needed with the least amount of cost.
Geospatial technologies can help us get a better handle on the balance needed to improve efficiency, and help us respond and manage the threats facing cities, and the threats cities pose to environmental balance. As the urbanization trend accelerates, our cities will become laboratories for balancing climate change, poverty, energy and environment. Geospatial technology plays an important role in mitigating detrimental impacts of our increasingly crowded planet.
- Program Your City: Legal and Governance Issues of an Urban Integrated Open Data API, Berkman Cetner for Internet & Society, Harvard University
- How Smart Tech are Drawing Cities of Tomorrow, The Times of India, Nov. 3, 2011
- The Smart City as a Grid of Visibility and Control, by Adam Greenfield, Wired Change Accelerators Blog, Nov. 2, 2011
- Smart Cities to Get Their Own Operating System, BBC News, Sept. 30, 2011
- Urban Lead, Nature Geoscience, Oct. 31, 2011