Smart Ways Cities Connect the Data (not the Dots)

You’re a smart person. In fact, you became the whole person you are today through an ongoing learning process enabled by synaptic connections in your brain. And, because “learning organizes and reorganizes the brain,” that process improves over time. You’re much smarter today than you were, say, as a teenager.

Rendering of Sydney rail line
Rendering of Sydney rail line

Similarly, a city can make use of connections—data connections—to become a smart city. As every city includes the use of infrastructure systems, these data connections allow the city to operate smarter and with more efficient processes that improve the functionality and resilience of their infrastructure – from the transportation systems we rely on to get across town, hydrologic systems that move storm water and prevent flooding, and the sustainable use of land on which we build – helping to improve how people interact with the built environment every day.

BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure. BIM contributes enormous data ‘banks’ that describe city infrastructure, systems and buildings and how they operate. It’s easy to see how available data quickly becomes big data and highly useful sources of information.

Data-rich models allow for analysis and simulations that can demonstrate project performance and suggest options for improvements, even before breaking ground. For example, Sydney’s North West Rail Link, expected to open in 2019, is a BIM-mandated transit rail project that includes 24 km of new rail lines and Australia’s longest rail tunnels. The model-based approach has allowed project teams to collaborate and identify design improvements that have reduced construction costs.

Sustainability in downtown DC ecoDistrict
Sustainability in downtown DC ecoDistrict

The BIM process also allows stakeholders to more easily consider the regulatory, environmental, and public concerns that can help contribute to sustainability. Washington D.C. has a vision for its Sustainable DC 2032 that includes creating a data-rich City Model that other city agencies can access. The model will help in identifying best-case scenarios for future policies, use of new technologies, and development planning.

Mexico City’s new international airport, Nuevo Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciuda de Mexico – NICM, will be one of the world’s largest. Foster + Partners and FR-EE designed it for sustainability by including systems for renewable energy sourcing, rainwater harvesting, wastewater reuse, and more. 3D model analysis was fundamental to studies of lighting, wind, and energy. “…the BIM models and the general workflow…allowed us to navigate through the model with real-time rendering, giving us a better understanding of existing issues and to evolve collaborative solutions with the various project teams,” according to Foster+Partners’ Jesus Perucho Alcalde. Pretty smart. Intentionally sustainable.

What it means to be smart is different from city to city because every city is different. Each city has its own context: Each has its own geography, geology, climate conditions; each has unique infrastructure systems; each ruled by leadership and policies that evolved to meet its own diverse population. Data in context is what matters and what works for each city.

Image courtesy of Foster + Partners
Image courtesy of Foster + Partners

Take, for example, the complex metro line construction project underway in Istanbul, a seaport city of 14.8 million people. Formerly Constantinople, and before that Byzantium (660 BC), Istanbul has a rich history that goes deep, which is to say that the project has had to undertake many archaeological excavations and deal with workarounds for historical buildings. Impressively, the municipality views this BIM-mandated investment cost as R&D, for it is intended to inspire future transportation projects in Turkey.

Again, think data-rich. The project’s BIM-based early design alternatives informed constructability issues. Istanbul terrain conditions and positions of structures were evaluated using 3D models to help explain status to managers. Visualizations informed the public. During the detailed design phase, BIM workflows helped to select the most feasible and efficient designs. Integrated analysis and simulation guided scheduling revisions that increased passenger safety and minimized damage during the project.

Terrain conditions in and around Istanbul, of course, describe the physical attributes that shape it. Now envision integrating intelligent BIM data with GIS data. GIS technology can be used to capture, store, analyze, and display geographic data, be it of a geologic feature, a man-made structure, or any position on the Earth’s surface. Planners and designers will be able to better understand how infrastructure projects fit within the context of a surrounding ecosystem.

Integrated analysis and simulation
Integrated analysis and simulation

The combination of design data and geospatial data holds promise for planning, designing and managing smart cities. Speaking about the recently announced Autodesk-Esri partnership, Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost says, “Our goals are to provide industry and city planners the ability to design in the context of the real world. This will allow communities to build more connected, resilient cities, and infrastructure with a focused eye on sustainability.”

Esri’s expertise in The Science of Where™ + Autodesk’s tools that enable designers and engineers to Make Anything™ all require access to one thing: data. We just need to put it into practice.

For a smart city, it’s all about connecting the data (not the dots) with the right technology. When its infrastructure systems—energy, water, transportation, buildings—can talk to each other,  the benefits can be far-reaching. If a city has the vision and the will, opportunities exist to be productive and accessible, but also livable with a clear focus on serving their citizens. –Serving you.

You’re smart. You’re in, right?