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Smart cities of tomorrow

Part 1: Geological data for a better quality of life, based on the article by Jens Wille in Transforming Cities 04-2021

When it comes to actively designing living space and improving quality of life in cities, there are no limits to data-based applications. The technological triad of data analytics, location intelligence and cloud computing makes it possible to use location-based data to improve the quality of life in cities. We will show which applications are possible based on the following use cases. In this article, we look at the social factors and potential of geospatial data for the smart city of tomorrow. In part two, we show further use cases in the field of mobility, and in part three, we address the topic of crisis prevention using location intelligence.

Precise data as a base for smart cities

When it comes to making life in cities sustainable and intelligent, a precise investigation of the status quo is indispensable. Ideally, the investigations are combined with historical data and predictive analyses. The information needed for this is often already available - but it is still rarely put into context. Statistics, artificial intelligence, sensors, communication tools: they all provide data from which city administrations and service providers can derive the needs of residents and thus better respond to them. With a kind of neural network based on a technological infrastructure for collecting and evaluating data, a city becomes a smart city. 

However, a strong distinction should be made as to what types of data are collected: While Asian metropolises such as Singapore or Songdo, for example, can use surveillance cameras, microphones, and facial or license plate scanners to create individual movement profiles, in Europe the top priority is to protect personal rights and data privacy. Here, only anonymous, non-personal data is collected - such as geoinformation or the evaluations of specially attached sensors. These can, for example, answer questions such as "Is the trash container full? Is the soil too dry? Is the parking lot occupied?" etc. Completely independent of personal data, this can provide important insights for resource and capacity planning of municipal facilities and services. 

More transparency and participation for citizens

When it comes to complex social issues, there are often many different opinions. If you want to win people over to your cause and influence their behavior, you have to convince them with clear, comprehensibly presented content and facts. This is exactly where data analyses come into play, which are ideally intuitively understandable and interactively prepared. In the area of location-based data, maps are predestined for this: Maps put geospatial information into context, make it tangible, and thus have the potential to inspire users. They show connections and help to make well-founded decisions.

A good example of this is ARD's interactive climate map: At, the development of temperature and precipitation over the past 60 years is visible. A slider can be used to make forecasts up to the year 2100 - in two scenarios: without climate protection and with a strong commitment to climate protection. The Climate from Space platform of the European Space Agency (ESA) pursues a similar goal: It is based on a scientific database whose contents have been made accessible to the general public as a web application. Where previously data had to be downloaded and laboriously processed, users with a wide variety of backgrounds can now explore the climate and understand complex relationships: Why does the ocean play a central role in heat regulation on our planet? What happens when the polar ice breaks up? How does land use affect CO2 emissions? Enormous amounts of satellite data were processed for the intuitive learning platform and presented in an easy-to-understand way. 

Similar applications are also possible on the subject of urban planning or traffic. As part of the EU project smarticipate, for example, the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD has developed a platform that citizens can use to submit ideas online for the design of their own neighborhood or to participate in political decisions and planning processes in their city. What's special about it is that, thanks to the link to urban planning data sources, each submission receives direct feedback on its actual feasibility. For example, Hamburger:innen was able to suggest locations for new tree plantings in the city area - and then received immediate feedback: Are new plantings compatible with the existing use of the proposed area? Which tree species can be planted there? What contribution will they make to the city's carbon footprint, or might a new planting have a negative impact on the solar potential of neighboring homes? Vivid 3D visualizations and easy-to-use feedback functions make political decisions more objective and support the dialog in urban planning. After all, transparency and citizen participation are among the core factors of a livable smart city.

  • climate map for ARD
  • Climate from Space application for ESA

Increasing the quality of life in cities based on social factors

When it comes to the quality of life in cities, social factors such as personal safety or the protection of those in need of assistance must not be forgotten under any circumstances. And here, too, the aggregation, analysis and visualization of location-based data can make a relevant contribution. Two examples: 

In order to find out how (un)safe girls and young women feel in German cities, the children's rights organization Plan International commissioned a "Safer Cities Map" in which users could enter positive and negative experiences for eight weeks - without storing personal data, of course. The project also served as an impetus for positive changes in the areas of urban planning, architecture or public transport.

Something to eat, a place to sleep, counseling or medical care: Children and young people in difficult life situations need fast, unbureaucratic help. To make this possible quickly and easily throughout Germany in the future, the aid organization Karuna has worked with us to develop the Mokli app, which displays all the important points of contact for young people in emergency situations throughout Germany. The interactive map makes it easy to find nearby counseling centers, emergency shelters, food banks, and daycare facilities, regardless of language or social barriers.

Safer Cities Map for Plan International

This article is based on the technical article by Jens Wille in Transforming Cities magazine and is the first of three parts in our series on the topic of "Smart Cities of Tomorrow".

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