Social challenges and urban planning

“Big Data and AI will enable new services to improve sustainability and social well-being in large communities”

Urban planning will play an increasingly significant role in the development of society. All over the world, the population continues to move to big cities, which are consequently becoming larger and more complex, and will eventually accommodate tens of millions of people.

When it comes to managing and planning those environments, we need all the Artificial Intelligence we have to cope with the complexity we face. Imagine the distribution of resources: electricity, traffic, waste collection are known issues but require computational skills. Urban planning has a significant role in managing services and activities to increase the livability of urban areas. Better organization of cities will improve citizens’ daily lives, who will enjoy more efficient and effective services: this could be a classic case in which some bottom-up transformations might benefit society. Demand from citizens for services that improve the quality of life in cities is the incentive to develop new technologies, applications and services.

Achieving urban planning that meets the needs of society requires a significant contribution from new technologies to support the development of smart cities and industrial areas.

However, technologies for the objectives outlined above show critical issues related to “surveillance” and privacy protection. For example, the same tools that allow us to notify a citizen when a bus arrives with extreme accuracy give the Government the ability to know precisely where those citizens are and where they are going.

Another risk would be that the personal data held by public administrations are hacked and end up in possession of bad actors.

These risks make it necessary that these tools are not managed exclusively by private entities but by public ones that provide adequate protection. If the development is left entirely in private hands, it would be impossible to guarantee maximization for the public good.

As an example, this issue has recently arisen with the Covid-19 vaccines. The vaccines were developed and marketed by the private sector. Their existence in a market economy and their regulation as private intellectual property make them inaccessible to many developing countries. Public intervention is therefore essential. Interaction between public and private relies on what each of them does better when it comes to innovation. Therefore, the main target for public stakeholders must be to accelerate the transformation and digitization process to manage new technologies for good.

There are several “low hanging fruits” in urban planning. First, we have the opportunity to digitalize society in many regions of the “underdeveloped” world, ensuring resilient and sustainable infrastructures and enabling proper education about new technologies. Second, another area where we can achieve considerable improvements in the immediate future is in transportation: the possibility to improve the accuracy of the arrival time of the subway or bus can significantly decongest traffic, reduce emissions while allowing citizens to optimize travel and save time.

Improving urban planning and management means improving the life of a large part of the population while optimizing our resources simultaneously.


ROADSTER – ROAd Digital Sustainable Twins in Emilia-Romagna

Artificial intelligence for industrial areas

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