Can AI Deliver Informed Urban Planning?
Our urban environment tells us a lot about the difference between planners and the citizens living in our towns and cities. A beautiful park, with trees planted along bench-lined pathways, can be an oasis of calm in a bustling metropolis. However, if it lies between, say, a subway’s exit and a busy store or office, you can be sure that there is a path worn in the grass, showing how we have all voted with our feet against the architect’s plan for the space.
Urban planning, the process of determining how best to add civic amenities, transport and other infrastructure to our towns and cities, is more art than science. Figuring out which amenity, transport method or facility best suits the citizens of today and tomorrow is challenging due to the huge amount of disparate information that has to be evaluated.
It could well be that AI, together with citizen input, could help to better determine the needs of the public. For example, data collected by smartphones could be used to determine movement across a sector of a city on various modes of transport. AI could leverage this information to determine optimal changes to road schemes, the creation of cycleways and implementation of pedestrianized zones.
Computer models of buildings are already being used in Building Information Modelling (BIM) to plan and design offices and housing more efficiently. AI has already been integrated into BIM software as add-on modules to perform analyses that usually take days to complete by an architect. One such tool is depthmapX from The Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL. It enables architects to perform a spacial network analysis from building level up to small urban scale. The results display attributes such as how well a single point in an area is connected to others, or how well integrated a location is into its environment. This should help to make sure that the local general store designed into a community space will have enough footfall to ensure that it can remain economically viable.
Urban planning will always be a sensitive issue. After all, these are the spaces we inhabit and the environment that we feel belongs to us. With AI and crowdsourced data, we have the opportunity to enable architects to not just create urban spaces and buildings for us, but with us.