GIS is key to developing smart cities and buildings

September 19, 2018  - By
ItalImage: Italy3d/Shutterstock.comy3d/

Image: Italy3d/

GIS is growing in importance to urban development, whether for environmental impact studies, geofencing or building information modeling (BIM). Sharing GIS data with developers is critical to a coordinated approach to smart city growth.

By Christine Easterfield, Principal Analyst, Cambashi

Just over half the world’s 7 billion population lives in cities. In Europe, this rises to three quarters, and 30 cities worldwide have populations of more than 10 million — the majority in India, China and South America.

This trend will continue. It is projected that the global population will reach almost 10 billion by 2050, which means cities will need to cope with increasing demands on housing, transport and communications.

Growing urban populations place considerable stress on housing stock. Cities need to provide scope to build new, but also to look at best use of existing properties.

In the growing urban population, there will always be a proportion that needs more support as employment rates shift and wages do not always keep up with city expenses. Social housing projects need to keep pace, and making the most of city resources opens opportunities for smart buildings.

The role of GIS

Proposed Indianapolis zoning map. (Image: City of Indianapolis)

Proposed Indianapolis zoning map. (Image: City of Indianapolis)

Coordinating new build and refurbishment plans across a city requires planning and organization, and a set of tools to support planners and designers. The layout of city-planning zones is the starting point for many new developments — sharing data about these areas is typically achieved using a GIS (geographic information system).

The standard city map with records of roads, emergency routes, bike routes, key buildings, new development zones, existing housing stock, utility services and street lighting are a central resource for most cities.

Sharing data between these city maps and developers’ plans is critical to a coordinated approach to city growth.

Environmental impact

The early stages for many developments involve an environmental impact study. How will the new development fit into the existing landscape? What restrictions are imposed because of the conditions of the site or the current demands on local resources? What options are there for addressing these constraints?

This last point is important for acceptance of the development. Being able to show a level of flexibility to accommodate local concerns and developers’ challenges will build a cooperative relationship. The ability to easily integrate building plans with the city map means that confidence is quickly built into the new plans.

Combining the geography of the city view with the building model destined for development provides a perfect foundation for an integrated GIS/BIM model to take the development from drawing board to handover.

Maintaining a digital twin of a development, in the form of a BIM, provides a rich source of information about the as-built building — exact measurements, materials used, changes from the original design and more. Integrating this with the city maps held in GIS means a continuous dataset can be formed.

Tools for construction site inspection and reporting


Photo: Alen Ajan/

Developing building information models (BIMs) requires monitoring the build activity and accurate recording of the construction. The best way to do this is as it happens.

Simple-to-use tools that are robust enough to cope with a construction site are becoming more available from software providers. These support gathering data by construction teams and contractors as the work is completed.

As well as recording data, these tools are also useful in registering the progress and completion of tasks. Many enable interaction with central systems that can send changes and updates directly to the site for immediate action.

The same tools can register the location of the user, enabling safer working practices to be enforced.

The practice of geofencing to monitor or even restrict access to parts of a construction site, by registering the location of a device against a predefined region on a map of the site, can track critical activities and react with the most appropriate action if an incident is reported.

Remote site inspection and reporting

The Aeryon SkyRanger. (Photo: Aeryon Labs)

The Aeryon SkyRanger. (Photo: Aeryon Labs)

The safest inspections don’t involve human intervention at all. Sending an unmanned aerial vehicle, UAV or drone, to fly over your site removes risk to staff when viewing hazardous environments.

Photographic imagery collected by drone can be loaded into GIS tools and accurately registered against the map of the area to provide a seamless view of the site.

Data integration is key

The range of data that can be accurately gathered and viewed together now covers original 3D designs, 2D construction plans, inspection photo-imagery and as-built updates.

Integration of BIM and GIS tools means that these different data types can be viewed together and in the same spatial context.

Support for building operation, management and maintenance in the wider context of a smart city

On-the-spot data capture of accurate as-built building information models that can seamlessly integrate with existing city plans leads to a data resource that cities can build on to improve safety, security and facilities for their citizens.

So what should the smart city planner be looking for?

Existing geospatial and data management tools already address many of these challenges, and when an opportunity for a technology refresh is presented, the approach to smart city support should be a big part of the mix.

Christine Easterfield

Christine Easterfield

Christine Easterfield is principal analyst for Cambashi. She has more than 20 years’ experience in the software business. Her experience has covered geospatial asset management for the utility industry: assessing market needs and opportunities, managing customer requirements, liaising with development teams and running global product introduction programs.

Previous roles include programming, training, consultancy and product marketing management.

She has worked for a range of companies from multinationals to small start-ups, resulting in an understanding of how different sized organisations operate, grow and manage change. Christine has a BSc in Computational Sciences and an MA in English Literature.

2 Comments on "GIS is key to developing smart cities and buildings"

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  1. smart growth areas are a great application example

  2. smart growth areas are a great application example