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How can we make our cities resilient?

resilient citiesWe live in an uncertain world, where social, economic and environmental setbacks can occur at any point of time. To withstand such jolts, our cities need to be resilient. Geospatial and emerging technologies can make that happen. 

Sometime back when the Rockefeller Foundation announced that it will phase out funding for the 100 Resilient Cities network by the end of this year, several participating cities, partnering non-governmental organizations, academics and businesses were taken by surprise. 100 Resilient Cities, an idea conceived by the foundation, was dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges of the 21st Century. The Resilient Cities Project, launched in the spring of 2013, supported the adoption and incorporation of a form of resilience that included not just the ability to deal with unforeseen events, but also the stresses that weaken the fabric of a city on a day-to-day basis.

What is a resilient city and how is it built?

In a world surrounded with uncertainties, resilience and sustainability are interchangeable terms. “Resilient cities are those that can survive, adapt and grow despite numerous challenges like rise in population, Climate Change and technology shifts,” Shantanu Goswami, Director, Platform & Technology Centre of Excellence, SAP-UK. He explains that resilience has historically been defined as the ability to return to the status quo after a disturbing event. In case of a city, its ability to react to a set of changes that might put its population, infrastructure and growth potential at risk could define the level of resilience.

A healthy mix of “physical engineering and social policy”, according to Duncan Booker, Sustainable Glasgow Manager, Glasgow City Council, could be foundational to resilient cities. “There is always a need for foresight and planning to address major structural changes. A good contemporary example of this can be the growth of robotics and automation and how this has, and is going to affect the world,” he says. Glasgow’s experience shows that a resilient city is built on the basis of a fairer, more just city, which is reflected in the priorities stated in its overarching community plan. This perspective is entirely compatible with other and more traditional approaches in terms of infrastructure investment and emergency planning.

The smart cities revolution has significantly boosted efforts towards the creation of cities that are buoyant, giving the urban planners much greater levels of granularity in the information which they can use. “The availability of new analytical and imaging approaches provided by urban Big Data has also allowed resilience practitioners a much greater level of insight into how city systems work and interact, and how they can be used to enhance a city’s competitiveness, quality of life for residents and general offer to visitors and investors,” Booker adds.

Information technology plays a crucial role in determining how accurately a city administration can predict an unforeseen event and how fast it can react. “The process is all about tapping the right data and being able to store and analyze it in real-time through effective processes. It is important for resilient cities to garner insight from data sets including environmental, traffic, social media, transactional systems, as well as types like structured, unstructured, spatial, graph, and IoT,” explains Goswami.

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How does geospatial and other technologies help?

Geospatial technologies and solutions are the building blocks of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For cities, it is a changing service-delivery environment in which services are provided according to need and demand in specific locations, evidenced by traditional monitoring methods commonly supported by returns from IoT sensors and data feeds. Multi-layered analysis of information with the common theme of ‘location’ offers insights and understanding to city planners and managers.

The tenacity of cities to acquire, process and utilize geospatial information, and develop innovative geospatial solutions are vital ingredients for resilient cities. “Cities can embrace the use of geospatial information and technologies to diagnose the health of their entire ecosystem to support its proper functioning and sustainability. Singapore has embarked on a ‘Smart Nation’ journey and is leveraging on the use of geospatial information and technologies to allow public-sector agencies to plan better, to prepare its citizens for the future and to foster economic growth,” says NG Siau Yong, Director, GeoSpatial and Data & Chief Data Officer, Singapore Land Authority.

resilient cities
SAP has been an active partner in Nanjing Smart City project. The Chinese city uses connected logistics to better measure, understand and manage large traffic volumes

The multi-dimensional analytical and visualization powers of GI solutions enable the requirements of a resilient city. Geospatial solutions enable sharing of information across multi-agency platforms, offering city managers and service providers an enhanced view of the cities’ critical operations and behaviors. “Such visibility promotes the development of efficient, sustainable and effective policies which build resilience,” points out Booker.
Geospatial is a necessary component for the planning of a resilient city as this spatial data concerns the urban built environment such as infrastructure, buildings and public spaces and interacts with the natural environment such as air quality, soil and water. “This technology is the key to providing critical services such as transport, municipal waste, water, energy, health and education,” explains Goswami.

In Gothenburg, one of the largest cities in Sweden, the authorities are working on a Digital Twin to put together a virtual model of the city to gauge the future challenges arising out of increase in population and Climate Change. “Managing the vast amount of data — open data, Big Data and data from IoT — is a big task. We are building the Digital Twin (Virtual Gothenburg) based on City Information Modeling, and will be launching it in 2021, the year that marks the 400th anniversary of Gothenburg,” explains Eric Jeansson, Geodata Strategist, City Planning Authority, Gothenburg.

Since history is important for future urban planning, Jeansson and his team have prepared a model of the17th Century Gothenburg. “Through these models, we can try and look into how our city was, and how it will be in future. For instance, in case the sea level rises, what will happen to the city and what are the ways in which we will deal with that crisis? We can gain insights into some of these issues by using technology,” Jeansson adds.

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What are the stakeholders doing?

Glasgow is an active member of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Global 100 Resilient Cities network and is therefore able to benefit from the experience of its peer cities throughout the world. “We published the UK’s first resilience strategy in October 2016 and identified a set of key themes on which action has been focused, with these themes subsequently being mainstreamed as part of Glasgow’s Community Plan ,” says Booker. One of the main things that Glasgow is doing to build greater resilience is drawing on its assets — people, place and institutions. “The ‘town-gown’ relationship, for instance, between the local authority and the further/higher education sector is a powerful example of the city drawing its key assets more closely together in order to better connect research, policy and practice.” he adds

In Singapore, the Municipal Services Office has developed the OneService mobile app which allows the community to report municipal issues centrally and enables public sector agencies to plan and coordinate municipal services more effectively. “The Singapore Land Authority has developed OneMap, the country’s authoritative national map platform to deliver accurate geospatial information and services to the community,” says Siau Yong. For instance, users can search for up-to-date bus arrival timings at a nearby bus stop, discover recent transacted and rental property prices, and analyze demographic statistics on a map. “We have also launched GeoWorks, Singapore’s Geospatial Industry Centre, to allow us not only to encourage greater collaboration between private and public sectors, but also to test out new ideas and innovations, addressing needs that we think future generations will require,” adds Siau Yong.

In Gothenburg, the authorities are increasingly involving children to draw plans and suggest ways to make their city stronger and more livable. “Since children are important stakeholders, we want them to find ways to make Gothenburg stronger and smarter and future-ready,” explains Jeansson.

resilient cities
In Gothenburg, one of the largest cities in Sweden, the authorities are working on a Digital Twin to put together a virtual model of the city to gauge into the future challenges arising out of increase in population and climate change

SAP has been an active partner in several smart city projects, including Nanjing in China. Nanjing uses intelligent digital technologies to better measure, understand and manage huge traffic volumes. There are about 10,000 cabs, 7,000 buses and one million private cars running on city roads. To manage this volume, Nanjing has developed a smart traffic system that includes sensors and RFID chips that generate continuous data streams about the status of transportation systems. “Nanjing uses advanced analytics that process 100 million records per day and a huge digital map that visually represents traffic events to identify traffic patterns and trouble spots. The system publishes traffic results in real time on a mobile app, which citizens can use to plan their travel and avoid congestion,” says Goswami.

Area of focus — present or future?

The discussion around resilient cities often leads to a dead-end: what does one do with the existing aging infrastructure? And is resilience a future concept?
“Existing infrastructure like dams, bridges, roads and other public facilities like stadiums generally have a 50-year lifespan and cannot be discounted when there are changes in technology. They need to be part of the overall plan, and better asset management & maintenance plans powered by smart technologies like AI & Machine Learning actually give extra life to them,” Goswami explains.

He cites the example of Buenos Aires, a city where SAP has worked in the past. Buenos Aires has always experienced seasonal torrential rains that caused flooding, property damage and injury. By deploying real-time sensors in existing storm drains that feed data to analytics solutions, the city can now help ensure that streets and drains are clean and free of flood-causing debris. In addition, these solutions help the city manage more than 700,000 assets, including streetlights, parks, bus stops, drains, buildings and bridges. Using sensor data and analytics to upgrade asset management, the city has enhanced safety for citizens.

Addressing ageing infrastructure is a key resilience challenge and it has become an even more acute issue in the age of Climate Change, when much of that infrastructure is under threat from extreme weather events such as floods and earthquakes. “In terms of retrofit for greater energy efficiency in our buildings, adoption of measures to prevent Climate Change, (including green-blue infrastructure) and upgrading transport systems are very crucial. Equally important is the investment in smart infrastructure,” says Booker.
The trick for our cities — and not an easy one under the current budgetary circumstances — is managing to do both.

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