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Mapping the future: Smarter planning for smarter cities

As the demand for smarter cities grows, Esri's Craig Evenden looks at the role of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the growing BIM ecosystem.

By Ellie Burns

Last year, the charity Population Matters warned of the pressure that population growth is putting on public services. This isn’t exactly a new cautionary note; we’ve heard it from various public figures and bodies who stress that not only is the population size soaring, there is also a rising problem of urbanisation and the pressures this puts on building and construction.

Forecasts have rarely painted a picture of population growth stagnation and while the numbers can never be perfectly accurate, the trend alone should suffice for highlighting the scale of planning that will need to be undertaken if we are to meet the demands of a growing population.

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

The increased demand for space isn’t the only issue, there is also a demand for a more connected world. The rise of the smart city puts a further pressure on construction, posing a threat to the budget spend when the planning and construction phases take place.

Smart cities need smart planning; the use of data plays a huge role here. Those in the construction and architectural industries need the tools to be able to analyse and visualise data to help with the design and planning of smart buildings. Designing in isolation 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 the correct information is displayed in an easy-to-view format. Visualising this information is usually the most digestible method for all within the construction lifecycle.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is not only a key tool for businesses operating in the private sector when planning the architecture and construction of smart buildings, it is also a useful tool for businesses to use when working on government projects.

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BIM has been around for a decade or more, however last April saw a new mandate for companies in the UK to become BIM compliant to at least Level 2. As such, 2016 saw a major step change regarding how planners, designers, architects and engineers have needed to consign paper to the bin and move towards a digital future.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are playing a pivotal role in this BIM ecosystem and helps facilitate the movement of data throughout the whole BIM lifecycle through planning, design, build and operate. Companies are adopting GIS as part of their BIM strategy to drive efficiency and support the digital handover. Using the technology enables location based awareness, supports the delivery of infrastructure sector projects, improves asset management, reduces health and safety risk, minimises environmental impact, advances data analyses and insight, and ultimately creates market opportunities and drives operational excellence.

BIM also allows data to be shared between different contractors working on different areas of the project to streamline project lifecycles right from the outset.

Not only is there a collaborative advantage and a time saving element, certain BIM technology also allows project managers to instantly visualise various layers of building and project information, which can then be shared with other stakeholders on the project.

With both smart cities and conventional building structures, it isn’t just the bricks and mortar that businesses in the AEC industries need to consider. The transport infrastructure, for instance, needs to be taken into account because businesses will need to determine whether there is additional infrastructure that needs to be created to make the buildings accessible to the people that need to use cities

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 the existing buildings, utilities and transport infrastructure, and for government projects we see it being used in everything from CCTV planning to the impact of flooding.

As the technology has matured, 3D is becoming more of a critical component to planning. 3D has huge benefits for visualisation and analytics, allowing more informed decisions than ever before. 3D mapping doesn’t just provide a dumb visualisation, but provides a layer of both data and intelligence.

The visualisation of data sets has enormous benefits to AEC businesses. It allows for a more holistic view of the information you have at hand and, perhaps most critically, it gives project managers the opportunity to assess and then deal with any issues in the planning phase, before any construction takes place.

Unlike traditional data analysis, where you have to arduously number crunch, using GIS and BIM is far more time effective and collaborative not only giving project managers that wider perspective but also in communicating challenges and results to other stakeholders involved.

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