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Technology is leading building design in all sorts of areas, from consumer products to smart homes. However, city planning is one area that has not moved substantially forward. The way we think about individual buildings has radically transformed with the advent of Building Information Modelling (BIM), but a holistic, data-driven approach to wider city planning still lags behind.
Euan Mills, urban design and planning lead at UK smart city hub Future Cities Catapult, said: “We’ve seen how, in the last 15 or 20 years, the impact of information communication technologies on the way that we live in cities.
“We’ve got over 40bn connected devices worldwide. We’re collecting more data than we’ve ever collected before and with all this data and all this processing power we now have incredibly smart computers. Meanwhile, with all this amazing new technology, the way that we plan cities is still firmly stuck in the 20th century.”
City Information Modelling, or CIM, has the potential to change all of that.
In 1989, Maxis published SimCity – an open-ended city-building video game that allowed the player to design and develop the ultimate city from the ground up. It was a great success, spawning a host of sequels and spin-offs, including the best-selling and more person-centred franchise The Sims. The SimCity games continued to hold their own fascination, however. Many gamers enjoyed mapping out development zones, planning infrastructure and turning a patch of undeveloped land into a thriving, high-tech metropolis.
City Information Modelling essentially takes the same concept and applies it to real life, with a hugely sophisticated platform allowing architects, planners and other professionals to collaborate on city-wide projects and designs.
To a certain extent, the construction industry is still getting to grips with BIM, so the relationship that Building Information Modelling has with the upscaled CIM is still very much evolving. Even if there has been a slow uptake in some quarters, however, most people in the industry recognise that BIM will play a much larger part in the future.
A recent report published by Zion Market Research predicted that the BIM market was set to nearly triple between 2016 and 2022, when it is expected to be worth $10.3bn. The UK is leading the world in BIM take-up, thanks largely to a mandate requiring all central government-funded projects to be delivered with collaborative 3D BIM, but other markets are slowly catching up.
BIM uses 3D modelling, of course, but it also goes far beyond traditional CAD capabilities to incorporate data and information on every part of a building project’s lifespan. The fact that different aspects can be linked collaboratively lends itself to potential expansions – where different individual buildings can be linked in a greater overall project. Expand this still further and you can have individual BIM files plugging into an even bigger, city-scale platform.
CIM goes beyond the remit of most BIM models and files, bringing in links to infrastructure, public services and even modelling how people move around and interact with the city.
Many of us are getting used to the idea of smart homes, with personal assistants helping to streamline our everyday lives while everything from security alarms to thermostats and smart toasters connect in an increasingly complex IoT-driven home environment. Connected devices are now being taken out of the home and incorporated into roads and public transport systems, commercial buildings, energy monitoring, and waste management platforms. Smart homes are forming component parts of increasingly smart cities, which are able to gather their own data and use it to increase their efficiency.
It isn’t all plain sailing and the implementation of smart technology on such a wide scale does pose challenges, particularly where issues such as data and privacy are concerned.
Smart cities can also bring big huge potential benefits, though. Amsterdam is one of the most data-driven cities in the world and the Amsterdam Smart City initiative has produced dozens of projects, including autonomous fleets of boats that reduce pollution, smart lamp posts that adjust to the light and weather, and thousands of sensors across the city that improve traffic flow and parking allocation.
In the UK, Manchester’s CityVerve smart city Open Innovation challenge, led by Cisco and Manchester Science Partnerships, invited SMEs to come up with innovative solutions to tackle challenges in healthcare, transport and energy.
“Without collaboration, any effort to solve the challenges facing society today fails at the first hurdle. No one organisation can truly do it alone. The answer lies in co-innovation, and this approach is fundamental to the open innovation challenges,” said Nick Chrissos, director of innovation at Cisco in Europe.
Collaboration is one of the defining elements of BIM and the same potential for collaboration and co-innovation certainly applies to City Information Modelling. CIM can use the data harvested by the IoT and smart cities but it can also join together different systems and stakeholders.
Stephen Webb, head of projects at Future Cities Catapult, said: “We’re already seeing how some companies allow citizens to view new buildings before they’re built. And we think there are possibilities to enable people to chat with the planning application of that new building, to understand how much affordable housing it will deliver, how much green space it might deliver.
“We’ve also been working with the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis to understand what combinations of data are most valuable for city planners, to citizens, to people running parks and open spaces.”
Interestingly, CIM is continuing to draw on elements of SimCity gaming and combining them with BIM to produce something we haven’t quite seen before but will undoubtedly see a lot of in future.
Improbable Worlds is a gaming company that has built simulations of entire UK cities, incorporating everything from telecommunications networks to transport, power grids, sewerage systems and housing demographics. These can all be accessed and interacted with in real-time, and this type of model will allow planners to test developments and changes before they implement them.
CIM is still in its relative infancy but there’s little doubt that it will have a huge part to play in designing and running the cities of the future.
How can data design transform the planning system in 2050? According to Euan Mills, in the future we will be able to “actually start measuring health, wellbeing, and happiness”.
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