How GIS is Informing the Smart Cities of the Future
Helen E. Lynch

Like almost every aspect of our modern lives, the future of our cities lies in smart technology revolutionizing the way that city urban planning is undertaken. The cities of the future will be as advanced as the devices we carry around every day, and equally transformational. Imagine a world where smart cities tell you where you can park your car, where the areas of highest pollution are, or even what the traffic is like, all in real-time? Smart cities will be connected in a way that allows visitors, businesses, and civic services to create and enjoy beautiful, efficient spaces.

A significant part of this transformational process relies on data, and more specifically, geographic information systems (GIS) that gather the complex inputs from a busy city and convert them into information and knowledge that can be used to plan, build and use city spaces. Urban planning maps are a critical part of the way cities are run and few cities are yet to truly be able to present this data in meaningful ways. GIS application in smart cities, providing interactive maps that inform decision making, is something that is being increasingly demanded by those investing in cities across the world.

Why City Mapping Software Matters

In order to respond to the demands of busy cities, information that is needed to make decisions needs to be accessible and up to date. Smart GIS software can present critical information to users in a way that doesn’t require technical expertise, making the transfer of knowledge much smoother. This relies on a system of inputs – sensors, geo-data, and inter-organizational communication that feeds into a central system – which can then be combined to create urban planning maps that tell a story.

A good example of this is a project undertaken in New York which saw the accumulation of 84,000 devices that qualified as going ‘up and down’ within the city confines. This covered everything from elevators, to escalators, dumbwaiters, and rollercoasters. The data was used to create a smart city gis map that identified complaints, issues, and repair requests, allowing the local building authorities to manage their service users and get the right technicians to the right places.

Knowledge is Power

The longstanding challenges facing cities can all be mitigated by the use of GIS. Whether it’s pollution or crime rates, weather conditions, or even soil type, smart GIS software can lessen the risk of important factors being missed. It also creates the all-important ‘single source of truth’ that allows multiple agencies to make decisions based on the same data, rather than relying on their own sources. Centralized, consistent information is essential for risk management.

Governments understand that smart cities are a must and will be the key to unlocking more cost-efficient ways of running everything from public transport to housing. Perhaps the challenge to this is the lack of understanding about just how powerful cloud-based GIS software solutions can be, and that it doesn’t mean a huge investment in hardware. Some applications are so simple they can be run from a smartphone. With the right commitment, however, governments will soon realize that the power to run and live in a city could be in the palm of their hand.