Mapping the future of smart cities

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Craig Evenden, a BIM specialist at mapping software company Esri UK, explains what geospatial information and visualisation can contribute to the planning, construction and management of more connected urban environments

Last year, charity Population Matters warned of the pressure that population growth is putting on public services in the UK. As a cautionary note, it’s not exactly news: we’ve heard it from plenty of public figures and government agencies, stressing that not only is the size of the population soaring, but also that there is a corresponding rise in urbanisation and, with it, mounting pressure on building and construction.

Forecasts from most parts of the world rarely paint a picture of population stagnation and, while the numbers given can never be perfectly accurate, the trend of population growth highlights the scale of planning that will be needed in future in order to tackle its challenges.

As research company Trading Economics correctly identifies, there is consistent growth in urban population sizes in the UK, while rural populations decrease at a similar rate.

Increased demand for space isn’t the only issue. There is also demand for a more connected world. The rise of the smart city puts further pressure on construction, posing a threat to budgets in the planning and construction phases. Smart cities need smart planning. The use of data plays a huge role here. Those in the construction and architectural industries need tools to be able to analyse and visualise data in the design and planning of smart buildings.

Designing in isolation, after all, is an impossible task in an age where there are so many different considerations and parties that need to be taken into account and involved in the process. It is critical that correct information is displayed in easy-to-view formats. Information visualisation is thus the most digestible method for all parties in the construction lifecycle.

Where GIS meets BIM

Geographic Information Systems (GISs) are playing a pivotal role in the ecosystem of tools that enable the BIM process and, in particular, in facilitating the movement of data through the BIM lifecycle from planning and design to build and operate. Companies are adopting GIS as part of their BIM strategies, in order to drive efficiency and support digital handover processes.


GIS software fulfils the BIM requirement for data to be shared between different contractors, working on different areas of the project, to streamline project lifecycles right from the outset. The technology allows project managers to instantly visualise layers of each building and call up relevant project information – including from mobile devices they use on site. Relevant and focused information can also be shared with all stakeholders through apps and dashboards.

About the author
As head of Esri UK’s AEC sector business, Craig Evenden leads the company’s GIS and BIM strategy. He has worked with a range of major construction organisations to help deliver greater project understanding through the use of geospatial technology.

With both smart and conventional building structures, it isn’t just bricks and mortar that need to be considered. Transport infrastructures, for instance, need to be taken into account, too, because businesses will need to determine whether proposed buildings will be accessible to the people that need to use them.

3D mapping is increasingly being used in a variety of innovative and interesting ways, across numerous industries. The smart city projects being undertaken around the globe all start from mapping existing buildings, utilities and transport infrastructure, and in government projects, we see it being used for everything from CCTV planning to analysing the potential impacts of flooding.

As the technology matures, 3D mapping has become more of a critical component to planning, with huge benefits for visualisation and analytics, because it supports even more informed decision-making than was possible before. 3D mapping doesn’t just provide a dumb visualisation, but also a layer of both data and intelligence.

GIS adds context to a building, while understanding the surrounding geography is crucial to connecting smart cities. We can no longer build in isolation; we must plan, design, build and operate infrastructure within a much wider framework that takes into consideration not only structures already built, but also the natural environment and how this fits into the wider picture.

The interactive visualisation of datasets has enormous benefits for AEC businesses. It allows for a more holistic view of the information they have at hand and, perhaps most critically, it gives project managers the opportunity to assess and deal with any issues in the planning phase, before construction gets underway.

As ground-breaking work by organisations like Skanska, Crossrail and Highways England demonstrates, a coherent BIM strategy, incorporating GIS digital mapping as an essential part of the tools ecosystem, is now the standard for delivering cutting-edge construction projects.

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