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Smart and Future Proof

Whilst there has been a focus, with increasing urbanisation, on making our cities smart, a balance needs to be drawn as to what really will make our cities future-proof. With the badge of smart cities comes greater automation, intelligent routing and transportation, real-time monitoring and integrated city management. In a world which promises new data-rich digital interaction, what role can and should geospatial play — what can the discipline and overall industry bring to the table in terms of background, expertise and experience — not simply from a technical or technological stance? How can we ensure that diverse data can be integrated and then used reliably — to deliver a more sustainable and resilient environment, with greater energy efficiency, less waste, improved flow of people and resource, and transparent communication with citizens to enable appropriate choices in response to the city dynamic?

More than half of the world’s population live in cities today, which is expected to touch 75% by 2050, with a global population of around 9-10 billion people. A lot of this urban expansion is projected to take place in developing countries, but the impact will also be significant in established economies. These cities place huge demands on our natural resources and are causing extensive re-thinking on our needs for energy, water, waste management, and the environment on a global basis. Clearly, there is a need to consider our strategies for developing existing and future cities to ensure sustainability. Supporting this growth means creating in the next 30 years as much infrastructure as was constructed over the past 150 years. The required rate of acceleration is immense, and the current systems and approaches will not deliver this need. The risks — environmental, societal, economic — are substantial; risks that lessons from the past will not be learnt,and that the wrong drivers will be at play. The long-running catalogue of ill-conceived ‘visions of the city’ is well described in David Pinder’s seminal work (2005), where utopia — and the ultimate well-being of society — have been poorly conceived, and inappropriately constructed. Concerns around over-simplification, group think and ill-directed implementation are topics which appear frequently in texts such as Taleb’s (2012) Anti-fragile, Heifernan’s (2011) Wilful Blindness and Scharmer amd Kaufe’s (2013) Leading from the Emerging Future. Exemplary cross-organisational decision making, long-term adaptive thinking and integrated but responsive, resilient ecosystem (aka future city/region) management will be required. There is a real danger in the area of activity around BIM, geospatial and asset management, that process and technology will take the dominant role — and that people — and for instance, the value of practical wisdom — will not be realised.

There is a mesh of wicked problems to untangle here, which will require adaptive leadership. In the UK, there is a GCSE geography exam called “Sustainable Decision-Making”, not a bad indication of what should be delivered within the BIM–Geospatial sphere to the Future Cities concept.

So what are Future Cities?

A study and report titled Future Proofing Cities published by Atkins (www.futureproofingcities.com ) in 2013 focuses on utilising and developing the capabilities of cities to respond to the risks associated with climate change, resource scarcities and damage to ecosystems, in a way that catalyses inclusive urban development. The study looked at 129 cities across 20 countries in Asia and Africa, categorising the cities into five typologies based on the most significant environmental risks they faced, and how they would cope socially, environmentally and economically. The results are seven broad recommendations, which, if implemented, would see cities tackling the risks to their long term prosperity. The report calls for leadership at all levels of government, international funding agencies, academia and the private sector to support, and that will require skills to be leveraged from across the infrastructure, engineering, environment, planning, design, economics and social science professions.

Rollo Home, Product Manager for Ordnance Survey, UK, holds that Smart Cities encompass the network of networks, the Internet of Things, Big Data, predictive analytics — all potential enablers to address the problems that future cities face. He points out that cities are now widely regarded as the economic drivers for entire regions, with London (cited as the fifth largest city economy in the world) creating 22% of UK’s GDP (2012). Equivalent to the total GDP of Sweden, this means that London and other cities are now competing against each other — for flow of resources and people — not only within regions but across the globe. According to Home, for those cities to compete, they need to deliver more (a higher quality of life) for less (attractive tax base) by, for instance, consuming less energy while providing better services, and a lot more digital services. And that is where Smart Cities kick in; as an enabling technology. Rollo and a team of volunteers are managing a series of events — the Geo:Big5 (www.geobig5.com) — for the Association of Geographic Information (AGI) to celebrate its 25th year — which will lead to a series of white papers and a Foresight Report (of which the author is editor) to be released for 2015. AGI has recently held the first two events — Future Cities and Open, leading on to BIM and Asset Management, Big Data and Policy — and are already gaining much insight into the challenges and opportunities for the industry.

Where geospatial is not being used, but could

According to Home, the assumption is that better use of data is the key to unlocking some of these problems. He points out that many conferences spend a lot of time debating what a smart city is, and that data and open access is really important. “But the how is left as a black box. No-one seems to be talking about geospatial at all. It is seen as being something at the end of the process — ‘we need a map, we will go and get one’. But if you want a network of networks, and to build in purpose, this takes time, which is why Ordnance Survey is keen to engage in the debate to establish what people need this data to provide”. Home argues that geospatial is the only common referencing that transcends all these different networks — an x, y, z is abstract but absolute enough to be used by just simple coincidence, against which we can then build complex inter-relationships. Moreover, you can build linked data which can identify common assets which are managed as close to their data source as possible, but still within a common framework. “Users do not need to worry about the providence of the asset data, they just need to make explicit links to features via the reference framework and the data is unlocked. This is what geospatial can provide,” he adds.

So what is the role of geospatial?

There are many areas where a geospatial approach can benefit and add value in both future proofing of existing cities and planning and developing the smart cities of the future — around effective planning, decision making, enabling efficiencies, enhancing communication and management.

Atkins has been working with government clients across the Gulf region to help them plan and design their urban infrastructure in a way that enables sustainability and integration with existing and planned elements of the built environment. Richard Budden, who heads the Atkins geospatial team in the Middle East and has recently joined its Global BIM Strategy Group, says the use of spatial technologies including GIS and BIM are making a major impact in which this is done. For instance, for one Middle East client, Atkins has been coordinating with the stakeholders responsible for designing and implementing key transport infrastructure, to meet some immovable strategic deadlines. This has brought a whole host of coordination and integration issues to light that the team has been working collaboratively with all parties to resolve. Budden observed; “The crucial first element in doing this successfully lies in understanding where the infrastructure is planned to exist both spatially and temporally; understanding where it will go and when it will be built. Geospatial tools harnessing locational and construction-scheduled data enable us to make sense of this, and lift the issues out of flat drawings and spreadsheets and present them to decision makers in a way that is easily understood.” This then enables solutions to be considered holistically, which is highly important in such a complex construction environment, and informs the process of developing mitigation, re-programming or re-design measures as a solution.

In the UK, the Technology Strategy Board is driving a lot of thinking and some sizable budgets. For example, the £24-million Glasgow project which is exploring and demonstrating best practices in this area. At AGI’s Future Cities event, Councillor Gordon Matheson (leader, Glasgow City Council) stressed the council’s commitment to opening up their data to public access through the portal where 85 datasets are currently published (including planning applications) that includes data from Ordnance Survey and the MET office. The focus is very much on putting the data into the hands of the citizen, as seen in the example of the customised city dash-board. The Councillor was keen to stress that while technology is great it is simply an enabler and it is the approach and political will that holds the key. Glasgow has a clear desire to be a global reference point for future cities. Homes explains that Ordnance Survey is working with Glasgow to provide a suitable licensing model to support these downstream applications . co.uk/about/news/2014/future-city-glasgowdeal. html). Glasgow is essentially acting as licensee for someone else — quite a novel concept — but if it works out, OS hopes that it will be able to roll this out to other local authorities and cities.

BIM & Geospatial: How the twain do meet

If it is understood that BIM is about the purposeful management of information across the whole life cycle of an infrastructure project — within the overall context of the portfolio or system within which it serves and operates, (based on the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) definition – see https://www.ice.org. uk/topics/BIM/ICE-BIM-Action-Group), and the interface and integration of BIM and asset management as described in the joint Institute of Asset Management and ICE paper (https://www. ice.org.uk/Information-resources/Document-Library/Leveraging- the-Relationship-between-BIM-and-Asset), it becomes clear the geospatial and BIM have been inter-twined for a long time. This is discussed in more detail in an earlier paper (Kemp 2011) “BIM isn’t Geospatial – or is it?” and in particular the on-going frustration that if people could be less rigid about different disciplines and technologies, and roll up our sleeves and use the best tools available to get the job done, there could be lot faster progress than what has been seen of late. A recent example was presented at AGI’s Future Cities’ event by Scottish Water and Kemeling Consulting on an asset visualisation project which allows much better visualisation of sections of the Scottish Water network giving benefits of both improved repair efficiency and improved transparency with local communities as to why work is being undertaken. The project has so far informed around £1-million worth of repair work. Crossrail continues to provide some of the best examples of integration of traditional approaches of design and construction with those of BIM and geospatial, with experiences now being carried across to projects in TfL and HS2. The Highways Agency and Environment Agency, in embracing BIM within the UK Government’s mandate for all publicly funded projects by 2016, have realised that to do this within the infrastructure space they need to integrate this with their asset management strategies which employ geospatial technologies. This trend is seen in the utilities sector, such as the water companies. In the field of energy masterplanning, geospatial technologies are being used to support smart grid analysis and visualisation, but another interesting development has been the use of social scrapping, to analyse spatially social media and twitter feeds across time to monitor the level of satisfaction of energy supplies for populations across a region to assist early stages of planning and design.

Another example is that of community-based Landslide Risk Reduction (Anderson and Holcombe, 2013) and continued research around informing policymakers and the local populace about the nature of landslides and how to take proactive action — using geospatial technologies to enable analysis and promote clearer communication.

Challenges in the way

In line with Kemp (2011), ARCADIS Netherlands, a large engineering firm involved in projects which integrate geospatial into the design process, thinks that the three main Challenges in the way In line with Kemp (2011), ARCADIS Netherlands, a large engineering firm involved in projects which integrate geospatial into the design process, thinks that the three main collaboration with w3C and OGC in the spring of this year. Communication and collaboration: Organisations need to collaborate to leverage the maximum benefit from their efforts. Communication is key to this and providing platforms and forums for active communication enhances collaboration and leads to more effective and less disruptive action. Base data: The availability of good, up-to-date base data — whether topographic, land use data, or transport orientated — is a constant and ongoing challenge, not least the accurate recording of underground utilities. These issues were discussed during a roundtable discussion organised by AGI as part of the Geo-Big 5 and Foresight Report activity. The common framework described by Rollo Home, and the joined up activities of OGC, BuildingSmart and W3C could go a long way to addressing this — but more support and funding across the industry is needed to facilitate this.

Future opportunities

It is clear that it is data that forms the basis for the geospatial industry, and developments and innovation in areas such as BIM, big data analytics and cloud storage are making more and more data available to us to interrogate, analyse, and make sense of. By integrating geospatial information with other data and applications we can visualise scenarios, extend our insight, make informed decisions and address a whole host of issues that enable better planning and development. For instance, for water management, we can utilise a sophisticated networks of sensors and apply analytical processes to support better-informed water policy and management decisions. And the use of GPS and RFID sensors can provide seamless communications, incident response management and desktop mapping for emergency response, as reflected in recent strategic developments across the UK water industry.

Final reflections

Whatever one’s discipline, it puts a particular lens on reality. That is ok, provided one is conscious of that — and that there IS a bigger picture. Geographers of all people are in a good position to understand that but getting that alignment of understanding requires a common language, or at least a way of conveying the bigger story, and the diversity of data and information revolving around that story in a way that is accessible to all parties. Perhaps this is actually at the root of the role that geospatial has to play — our heritage in mapping, such that a wider audience can understand the world around us — even whilst GIS is now engulfed by location-enabled smart devices and apps. At the same time we should not lose sight of the analysis, the mining, the interpretation and the integration of any informa-tion needed to derive a better understanding, and support better decision making — and that this may be facilitated by location. On the other hand, if the GI community gets too hung up with the location bit, then others will steal a march, if they haven’t already done so. The more important bit is the ability to keep referring back to the bigger picture — allowing specialists the window into their world, but allowing them to see the context in a way which is consistent and reliable. This then is how geospatial should enable intelligent cities. By being a facilitator — bringing into consciousness what one did not know before. Being consciously aware of what the gaps are and who can cover them. By getting a better grip of what the real questions are — have they been surfaced to the right logical level? And how then, should they be answered? This should be the context of better decision- making and better collaborative working. With the right people involved — knowing what is relevant, what is appropriate, what are the dangers, and what are the unknowns? There is a need to be consciously aware that ‘the map is not the territory’, and that our world is not a reality but only a perspective on it.

Perhaps a more appropriate alternative to augmented reality is authentic reality. With an emphasis of connection with relevant, reliable, data which can help make sense of complex inter-relationships, whilst being clear about the appropriateness of the data – where there may be bias, or limitations in the way it should be interpreted – a transparency in where it has come from, how and when it has been created – a means of using data in such a way as to throw a spotlight on the reality of the situation in a flexible and adaptive way – to enlighten, to clarify, and enable diversity of thinking and challenge.

Anderson, M.G. and Holcombe, E. (2013): Community-based Landslide Risk Reduction – Managing Disasters in Small Steps. The World Bank, Washington, DC.
BSi (2012): PAS 1192: Part 2 (2013): Specification for information management for the capital/delivery phase of construction projects using building information modelling. BSi, London.
Heffernan, M. (2011): Wilful Blindness – why we ignore the obvious at our peril. Simon and Schuster, USA.
Kemp, A.C. (2011) BIM isn’t Geospatial – or is it? https://www.agi.org.uk/storage/GeoCommunity/AGI2011/Papers/AnneKempPaper.pdf
Pinder, D. (2005): Visions of the City. Edinburgh University Press Limited, Edinburgh.
Scharmer, O. And Kaufer, K. (2013): Leading from the Emerging Future – from Ego-System to Eco-system Economies.

Berret-Koehler Publishers Inc, San Francisco.Taleb, N.N. (2012): AntiFragile – how to live in a world we don’t understand. Allen Lane, England.