Data Analytics as a tool for building Resilient Cities of the future
The urban world has been changing quickly over the years. Urbanization can be considered an important engine that drives countries to growth and development. However, rapid urbanization goes frequently unplanned, with cities struggling to keep up with the increasing needs of the fast growing-population. It is thus extremely important that we look at cities in terms of how they are being planned and how they develop. Since half of the world population resides in cities, it is becoming increasingly vital that we build more resilient cities for the future, especially since the complexity of cities, in general, makes them vulnerable to disruptions and disasters.
The concept of resilience rose following climate change challenges and global crises, with the notion of helping the most vulnerable and being able to survive and grow in the face of challenges, including natural disasters, fuel, water, and food shortages, as well as financial crises, etc. at the top of priorities. Therefore, for most major cities around the world, strengthening city resilience is a major goal because resilience reflects a city’s ability to persevere in the face of emergencies and disasters. A resilient city is readily prepared to address and deal with any shock or stress it might face, while maintaining, at the same time, its ability to manage things at the moment.
Most cities, however, lack the data needed to maintain, monitor and guide growth. Given the increased strain that the swelling of urban population is putting on cities’ infrastructure, data-driven and technological solutions will play a central role in making city operations and performance more efficient and effective. They will play a key role in designing and transforming the cities of tomorrow, as they provide great opportunities to help bridge any gaps the cities might face in this regard. For instance, the use of smart technologies and digital techniques – such as smartphones, sensors, and applications – has been providing many opportunities for data collection, which can be used and analyzed for many purposes, including making informed investments in infrastructure to help meet all the needs necessary to the population.
Now that technology is being integrated more into the lives of residents, with digital interfaces being added in traditional infrastructure, it is putting instant information in the hands of municipal leaders and translating raw data directly to city planners. This information helps the planners and leaders make better and informed decisions and deliver better quality of life, through the use of new smart tools that help them take preventative measures, respond to emergencies, and plan for sustainability, growth, and development.
Smart technologies have substantial unrealized potential to improve various quality of life dimensions, including: public safety, time and convenience, health, environmental quality, and employment. For instance, the data emerging from the use of smart technologies can help deploy resources and personnel more effectively, thus improving public safety and accelerating law-enforcement response. On the other hand, smart traffic signals help improve mobility, with real-time information delivered through mobile apps and digital signage providing enhanced and faster daily commutes.
In addition, smart technologies can be an incentive to achieve better health, as telemedicine can be lifesaving. In fact, digital devices and telemedicine can help prevent, treat, and monitor health conditions remotely, thus reducing the health burden on urban cities, especially in the case of doctor shortages. As for the environment, smart cities can help deliver a cleaner and sustainable environment by taking protective measures through water-consumption tracking, air-quality control, CO2 emissions monitoring, and solid waste reduction.
Advanced cities are constantly exploring new techniques to find urban solutions that could meet the population’s needs and help maintain a resilient environment for the residents. Using data analytics helps city planners and leaders gain deeper knowledge and a clearer perception of the city’s various situations and scenarios, thus helping them translate all their findings into better plans to address financial risks and all vulnerabilities that might exist in the city’s infrastructure. The data can, thus, be utilized to inform planning and conduct risk assessments.
Subsequently, each city sets its own priorities in this regard, which will require specifically tailored solutions for each of them. To this end, the key ingredient to effective data solutions remains human skill and knowledge. Hence, opportunities for youth and young planners to learn and explore the use of technology on urban planning is of utmost importance, as they are taught how to apply data analytics in urban planning and how to experiment in creating new technology solutions, and thus relevant resilience plans.
As such, relevant resilience plans in urban planning should be built around technology, as well as around understanding potential consequences on communities, as the effects of emergencies are not recorded or captured in machine data only. Therefore, capturing and categorizing information can help the cities analyze the social consequences and draft comprehensive recovery and resilience plans that can be customized for different scenarios.
These plans would include the reaction of communities to past emergency responses, with a feedback loop to capture the outcomes of past resilience strategies, which can be instrumental to any future planning processes for similar events. Consequently, the feedback loop would also help the planners better understand and prioritize areas for intervention and identify the population’s usage patterns of different amenities, thus helping them assess the need to create new and much-needed social services and facilities.
Finally, governments are looking to put national plans in place to ensure that their cities are cities for all ages. One of the key elements in these plans is making their cities a highly livable place, in which residents can grow old and live comfortably. Governments are, therefore, well aware that urban planning built on data and analytics is a possible and much-needed approach that needs to be implemented through collaborative efforts exerted by different agencies in order to achieve their set goals.