Sustainable and Resilient Cities: Challenges and Opportunities

Sentient Cities: Leveraging Crowdsourcing, Mobile, and Social Techniques to Address Challenges in City Planning
Sergio Borger, IBM Research

Do you recall when was the last time you have expressed your support to a city planning activity? Better question could be, do you remember the topic that you supported and have you been able to monitor progress of the initiative? For most of us those strategic decision that affect our daily lives pass by unnoticed. We heavily rely on top-down approaches of city management, based on processes and services to regulate and assure supply of our needs and wants. Ratti & Townsend (2011) mentioned “by providing finished solutions rather than new raw materials for building the physical and social fabrics of smarter cities, top down designs rob themselves of any capability to invent new ideas for how to make cities better.” Thus, it is time to think of innovative strategies and technologies to allow frequent engagement of citizens and communities within the activities, decision and execution. The biggest most transformational innovations will come from the bottom. We must be at a position to provide to this innovation movement.

Cities are the home of half of the world population. Projections indicate that cities will host over 85% of the population in the developed world by 2050 [2]. There are obvious reasons that lead many of us to move from rural lives to urban lives that range from work availability, education for our children, access to modern healthcare systems, larger assortment of goods and services, availability of resources and others. For that, cities must be managed, instrumented and interconnected in a way that citizens can achieve their objectives. We call this strategy “Smart”. In a second view, looking at time and location dimensions and linking this to city growth trends and the formation of megacities, two additional factors come to be top of mind: Sustainability and Adaptability. In this case, the city will need to become cognizant of individual and human needs in the future, which include a high level of uncertainty and an increase need of citizen participation. We call this strategy “Sentient”.

The implementation of strategic initiatives by a city, for the first 3 attributes (managed, instrumented and interconnected), will make the city more efficient and effective in responding to the immediate needs of their citizens. Use of protocols for situation and crisis management as well integrated and coordinated response from city services will allow city operators to effectively coordinate response. Interconnected sensors will allow instantaneous visibility of resources and their status as well as implications of weather conditions and their uncertain implications for city dynamics. There are hundreds of projects in a multitude of technical domains being implemented by cities all around the world using this type of approach.

Education, Healthcare and Mobility of products and people are three of the main elements that attract people to aggregate in cities. In most countries, there is a direct correlation between location, availability and quality of those services and cost and desirability of housing. The main question for growing cities of the developing world became how to further develop those services, which require vast amounts of investment in infrastructure and people, considering the disparities between the multiple communities that share common city boundaries. Enterprise who deliver goods and services to city populations also face similar challenges in identifying proper strategies for product introduction, assortment planning, product distribution and availability for the proper communities. There are significant challenges in generating the information about communities and individuals wants and needs to allow cities to plan on how to provide the quality of life that citizens aspire for. For example, planning public transportation routes and frequency in support of work related activities would require knowledge about the company work location and the places where their employees live and their planned schedule for timely arrival at the work location. In a similar way, electronic carpooling match is more effective when there is a good level of personalized communication between driver and rider. Similar, better recruiting is achieved when job seekers and job placement opportunities are shared within the communities that would have higher interest for those positions.

We will be sharing results and lessons learned from projects executed over the past 4 years using the Smart strategy, making a connection to variables related to weather, flood and services coordination. We will also discuss the Sentient strategy by introducing the human related variables using mobile based citizens as sensors, crowdsourcing and social networking strategies to map, monitor and engage citizens

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