How Has the Cloud Affected the World of Urban Planning

November 9, 2018 Off By Hoofer

Article Written by Avery Phillips

For a number of years, urban planners have been working with software known as building information modeling (BIM). Essentially, this is software that allows the importing and integration of 3D building design into a program that analyzes data regarding energy impacts, environmental and community impacts, and construction compliance with local building codes and regulations. 

Of course the next step in this process is to go beyond BIM and the design of buildings that comply with city codes and local regulations into full city information modeling (CIM) that can essentially do the same thing on a larger scale. The full impact of any number of project types can now be automated, and these tasks can be performed on the cloud. 

This has become possible as GIS and other mapping software has continued to move toward cloud computing instead of server or machine-based applications. ESRI took leaps forward in this area with ArcGIS online, along with launching software developed in cooperation with the company SmarterBetterCities. The company is based in Switzerland and is the designer of CloudCity, a cloud-based CIM-specific system. 

Many of these CIM systems have been developed by urban planners who have been analyzing this type of data for years, but doing so manually. The automation process takes something that used to take a couple of dozen specialists a number of weeks to complete and automates it so results are available nearly instantaneously.


The effect of any planning changes made can also be computed rapidly, and multiple users in more than one location can collaborate through the cloud. What does this cloud computing mean to on the ground urban planners? Here are some simple ways.

Your Own Asphalt

First, we know that the addition of buildings, from industrial centers to large residential developments such as high rises, have an impact on the transportation needs of the community around them. Ease of access to public transportation, if the people working or living in those areas will use it effectively, can actually reduce the amount of traffic on the roads and the impact on streets and infrastructure. 

The opposite is true of a large shopping center or the development of a multiple single-family homes in a neighborhood. There will be a correlating increase in traffic and a resulting need to build new roads or upgrade current ones. 

Combining cloud-based CIM and GIS mapping software can help planners understand these needs – whether roads need to be widened, sealcoated and improved, or reconstructed altogether. Rerouting projects and other types street projects can then be coordinated with the construction of the new buildings when needed. This minimizes both short- and long-term impacts of the construction.

Going Higher or Wider

Besides the effect of construction on roads, using CIM software urban planners can determine what kind of housing projects will have the most benefit in certain areas. This is because the program takes into account a number of factors. 

For example, take an urban high-rise housing project to revitalize an area in Oakland. Using the program UrbanFootprint, planners found that by increasing housing units in an urban area from 4,447 to 27,156, which is simply a matter of replacing one- to two-story housing units with five=-story units instead, there would be a much lower impact on the community than creating the same number of housing units in the Alameda area. In fact, the dense population near a BART station would mean 270 million fewer miles being driven in cars per year, 12 million fewer gallons of fuel being burned annually saving $43 million in fuel, and the production of nearly 110,000 metric tons of carbon emissions being avoided. 

The real benefit of CIM software is the ability to run several different scenarios and choose the one that resolves all of the issues best. For instance, taking a holistic view allows planners to see the correlation between walking neighborhoods with access to public transit and personal health. The right planning solution results in addressing more than one problem at a time. It is cloud-based urban planning software that allows for quicker and more thorough evaluations.

Addressing the Risks

Finally, one of the drawbacks of dense urban development is that it puts a large population in a single area. Two thirds of the people who will live on the globe in the next 50 years will likely do so in cities, and the world population is growing at astounding rates. What is next for our overcrowded cities, and how do these facts affect urban planning? 

While dense housing can reduce ecological impact in many ways, provided of course that water and utilities can be easily accessed, a large population grouped together is also more susceptible to the spread of disease and illness. Along with all of the positive impacts, cloud software can help urban planners run a number of scenarios to make sure there is healthcare access and emergency responders are available to deal with possible outbreaks. 

Also, in light of recent events, the subject of urban security vulnerabilities cannot be ignored. A large group of people housed together is a potential target, and risks need to be evaluated and planned for, from emergency responders to increased police presence and other measures like monitored cameras, emergency phones, and automated security measures. Cloud-based urban planning is helping cities deal with the reality of these threats and increased risks. 

There is no city that wants to endure a disaster, but the importance of contingency planning for everything from natural disasters to human-instigated crisis is part of the essential structure of smart cities, and one of the primary benefits of cloud-based urban planning. 

Like many other industries, the area of urban planning is largely impacted by cloud computing when it comes to the speed with which data can be gathered and analyzed. This speed and depth of cloud-assisted analysis is making better decisions possible in a shorter period of time at a reduced cost. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, from politicians to planners, from builders to contractors and street departments. With rapid software development and widespread implementation, soon every city will be a smart city.


About the Author

Avery Phillips is a unicorn of a human being who loves all things relating to people and their entrepreneurial spirits. Comment down below or tweet her @a_taylorian.