Smart cities: planning and development

Building in the future

1 April 2015

Michael Mulquin explains new smart cities planning and development guidance from the British Standards Institution

A smart city is simply a city where technology is used to help it become more liveable and better managed. This may involve making data easily available to software developers so they can develop apps to help people navigate through the streets. It may include upgrading the city’s lampposts for a wifi mesh network, a hub for smart parking and other sensors, a post for air quality monitoring, or a stand for CCTV. It will include exploiting building information modelling (BIM) and other digital technologies to design and manage neighbourhoods and public spaces better.

Although new development forms only a small part of the city, it is easier and cheaper to put the foundations for a smart city in place in a development project at the planning and implementation stage. To this end, British Standards Institution (BSI) has published Smart cities: Guide to the role of the planning and development process as part of a series of standards documents.

BSI defines a smart city as one where there is “effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens”. The use of digital technology to help design, construct and manage the buildings and infrastructure is a key part of the process.

The development stage is the right time, for instance, to design and install a future-proof communications infrastructure that will not only provide the foundation for high-quality broadband internet access for homes and businesses, but will also support intelligent traffic management and CCTV networks, as well as enabling sensors and actuators to be incorporated.

Designing smartness into new developments could provide cities with the clarity they need to think strategically about how the city as a whole could function better

Designing smartness into new developments could provide cities with the clarity they need to think strategically about how the city as a whole could function better. It could also provide an opportunity to test new business models and processes comparatively cheaply and easily to demonstrate their viability. And, of course, the smart use of data and digital modelling can enable significant savings in the implementation, ongoing management and service delivery stages.

BSI PD 8101 identifies five key areas where planning and development can support smart city aspirations:

  • cities need to put in place the right agreements and partnership arrangements to enable all the key city agencies to work together
  • appropriate and future-proof digital and communications infrastructure should be installed to support new services and allow real-time data to be generated, delivered and used to help the city work well
  • it calls for a readiness to embrace new and transformational business models, made possible by increased access to data and closer integration between city systems, and for reviewing how existing business processes might capitalise on these
  • it recommends that agreements between organisations regarding data handling are put in place to allow the information generated to support both day-to-day management and long-term plans
  • the power of data needs to be exploited to make sure that the physical environment and its neighbourhoods support the citizen, business and visitor. It is worth looking at the latter two in more detail.

Exploitation of data

It is vital for as much useful data to be generated as possible, and in a useable format.

Increasingly, new developments and infrastructure projects have data collection and communications facilities built in. This is because of the growing use of BIM to brief, design, procure, deliver and operate building environments and energy distribution.

BIM Levels 1 and 2 use data and 3D geometry modelling to improve the design, construction and overall performance of built environment assets such as buildings, roads and dams during their entire life cycle, and therefore to generate significant savings and productivity returns. The next stage, Level 3 BIM, opens the concept of whole life analysis and the integration over many assets to create either smart portfolios, grids or strategies.

Smart city approaches take BIM one step further, by aggregating data from individual buildings or campuses to allow new neighbourhoods to be better designed and existing ones to be better managed.

The opportunity of a new development is that, because of the comparatively low cost of, for example, installing sensor networks during construction, it enables large amounts of data to be gathered. There is also a clear benefit in agencies sharing their data to enable better design and service delivery.

However, challenges include:

  • Additional costs: There are likely to be extra costs involved in ensuring that data being collected for internal use by an agency is done in an open, standards-based format that would enable it to be made more widely available. This is particularly true if an agency is already using a proprietary system, which would need to be changed or modified for the particular development.
  • Data security and privacy: There is a challenge in maintaining confidence, both to those providing the data and to individuals to which that data relates.
  • Workable commercial arrangements: Even when considering data related to a single development, putting together effective commercial arrangements for its use might not be easy.

Solving these issues will allow the foundation to be put in place for effective data sharing within the whole city.

Changing cities

Rapid changes are taking place in city life including lifestyles and expectations of citizens and the shift in service delivery provision, both public and private. Flexibility is key and a range of scenarios need to be explored in the planning process.

The only way to do justice to the complexity of challenges that cities face is to use the best data available on how cities work now and on how they are likely to change. Only in this way can developments and infrastructure projects be designed in a cost-effective way that works for today, while supporting likely and beneficial options for the future.

Of course, data has always been used in the design of new developments, for instance, demographic data to identify housingthat is likely to be attractive to local people. Surveys and other methods of collecting travel movement data have helped to understand how to design neighbourhoods.

However, it is expensive and time-consuming to conduct research involving face-to-face interviews. Results can also be unreliable, because respondents do not always report honestly on their behaviour.

Now, though, reliable information on people’s actual behaviour can be gathered using, for instance, anonymised mobile phone data to discover how and when they move through an area and even what type of transport they use. This can be supplemented through data from congestion charging zones, and smart ticketing systems such as Transport for London’s Oyster card.

Shows 3D model of Darwin city centre at night Shows integrated urban models of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Left: 3D modelling of Darwin city centre masterplan at night 

Right: Integrated urban model layes of Jeddah Saudi Arabia. From top to bottom: Town centre accessibility index; urban activity index; population density of large-scale urban blocks; route categoriesShows forecast of pedestrian movement in Masdar city Shows local spatial accessibility in Greater London

Left: Masdar City, Abu Dhabi: pedestrian movement forecast on a typical weekday lunchtime

Right: Greater London: local spatial accessibility analysis

Images © Space Syntax

Assessing land value

Property developers and planners are interested in increasing land value and this will be based on a number of different factors – for instance, low carbon, low crime, good schools, and convenient transport links. A model is needed to understand the relative roles of each of these factors and thus weigh up the pros and cons of various options.

Local authorities already have a great deal of data available, the goal is to use it effectively to result in developments that work better for the citizen and benefit the local economy.

Data about the way people move through spaces and what visual clues can help to guide them could, for instance, make it easier to direct potential customers towards retail areas offering products and services they are interested in. This could make such areas more profitable and, in turn, lead indirectly to greater income for both local authorities and developers. Being able to provide evidence that, for instance, retail developments could attract large numbers of visits from potential customers, could enable the developers to sell or rent their developments at greater profit.

A good example is the model being developed by the City of London to test how particular development proposals would affect pedestrian movement. This could be extended. Better understanding of pedestrian movement is helpful in itself, but when modelling design changes to affect pedestrian traffic, it would also be important to understand the knock-on effects on bus travel and retail trade in the area.

The use of digital modelling could enable more accurate forecasts of movement patterns – where, when, why and how people travel. It could help to develop better land use plans, enabling shops and retail areas to be located in places where the appropriate people are moving through, using an appropriate form of transport, making it easier for them to attract potential customers. It could allow safety issues to be anticipated, avoiding lonely walkways, blind corners, and areas that are cut off and might end up as ghettos.

It could also provide more accurate predictions of the impact of development proposals on the value of the land; the ability to predict which areas are likely to increase in value and by how much. This is potentially important for tax increment financing, allowing local authorities to borrow the money needed to support a new development on the basis of the increased land values and therefore the increased taxes. Reliable metrics and tools could allow projected land value to be based on real evidence and not simply on the opinions of consultants.

Another benefit is that digitally-enabled visualisation could form a key part of engaging non-technical stakeholders in the consultation process, provided the developers submit their digital design to the local authority in a format that can be used in the creation of a digital map of the city.

Cities are going to be looking increasingly to exploit new technologies to provide better environments for their citizens and, in particular, to capitalise on the opportunities of new developments. This BSI guide is only a start in reviewing the many challenges and opportunities that this will offer, but it will help us all to think more clearly about what needs to be done.

Michael Mulquin is a technical author of Smart cities – Guide to the role of the planning and development process and a Director at IS Communications

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