GIS turning data into action for smart cities

Studies have shown that the human population living in cities will continue to grow to a point that by the end of this century, almost 90% of the world’s population is going to be living in some form or another of an urban setting. Large metropolises are complex and dynamic, however, they suffer from a plethora of problems that are associated with the high density and intensity of activities. Problems like traffic congestion, air pollution, urban heating, crime, rise in property rates etc. are some of the obvious problems. Having said this, however, large cities obviously benefit from massive economies of scale, that allows for various kinds of services to be provided to the population, that would have been impossibly expensive for rural areas or small cities with lower densities.

Keeping up with the pace of urbanisation in India and to provide better facilities and living conditions, the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) initiated a national programme for urban India under the name of ‘Smart Cities’, that would help them in driving economic development even further. The aim of the programme is not only in creating greenfield cities but also in the rebuilding or retrofitting of the existing city to become smarter, future-ready as well as sustainable. The relevance of GIS or geographic information systems begins right from the planning stage. Location being a common denominator for almost every aspect of a smart city, this means that it has to be a part of the very backbone of the project, along with ICT planning and deployment.

Urban planning needs geolocation accuracy and detailed geographical data. Smart Cities rely on technologies such as GPS for transportation management as well as connected vehicles, and GIS helps the city planners in creating an urban digital model with the help of geo-referenced data. This, in turn, helps in enabling the building engineers, in multifaceted aspects, for example, locating multimodal transport stations or even designing residential and urban areas in a manner that is beneficial for the populace. A centralised information system, that is based on GIS, can help in providing an IT framework, which is capable of integrating almost every aspect of a Smart City right from the conceptualisation, to planning and development and eventual maintenance.

Cities, as we all know, are a complex agglomeration of houses and buildings, streets, parks, neighbourhoods, shopping centres, industrial plants, etc. Location, land-use patterns, distances and interactions are the basic tenets of a geospatial approach, which means that GIS is integral for city management and also the basic idea of a Smart City. Today, cities produce a lot of real-time geospatial data, for example, traffic flow data related to traffic congestion, traffic-related pollution, etc. which eventually has helped in the creation of intelligent traffic management systems that increase the efficiency and safety of urban transportation.

Other data that is acquired via GIS, or which is made available by streaming, is analysed and interpreted in the interest of advancing knowledge and thus making the city smarter. This also helps in the creation of traditional urban simulation models that can be renovated to create more accurate cross-scale and in time predictions. With interconnected spatial, social, economic and physical processes of dynamic temporal change, how a city functions is continuously modified by human actions and use of IT.

To this end, insights that are received from GIS, help in a plethora of ways and can go about in bringing transparency in governance, smart infrastructure, public safety, smart waste disposal, smart buildings, smart security, smart delivery mechanisms, etc. that are a few of the crucial components of any smart city.

Integrating all the various aspects of city planning and management, and then creating a common operating picture, GIS is essential to the smart city ecosystem. With various stakeholders that are involved in the integration, coordination and synergistic functioning and success of a Smart city – GIS data is crucial for turning insights into action for Smart Cities.

By Ashwani Rawat, Co-Founder, and Director, Transerve Technologies

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