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Big Data in smart cities

Juan Murillo

04/23/2013 08:15

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In recent years we have again been attracted by the idea of consolidated cities. Many cites do not need more housing; what they need is better housing and better urban environments. We need is to use our ingenuity to optimize physical and financial resources. There are major opportunities that could benefit society as a whole if we can successfully interpret big data.

Nearly every city in Spain, and many smaller municipalities, were growing until 2008. In that year everything came to a screeching halt. This sudden slowdown was of course very painful to some, triggering rising unemployment. However, there were some benefits to the return to sanity in 2008, such as a decline in the pressure exerted on the natural environment and economic diversification.

There is one such positive effect that I would particularly like to focus on here. It seems that many of us, city planners and private and public managers, have recently been looking again at the concept of the consolidated city. There has been a U-turn in our thinking. The economic climate has forced us to stop simply concreting over everything in sight and begin to think about ordered degrowth. Our efforts need to be focused on what has already been built. Many cites have no need for more housing; what they need is better housing and better urban environments.

There are two plans underway that derive from this newfound focus on improving cities as they currently exist. These are the draft bill on urban rehabilitation, regeneration and renewal currently being processed by Spain's Ministry of Civil Works, and the other is the new urban development plan for Madrid which is set to be approved in 2015. 800,000 people in Madrid currently inhabit the ring of urban growth that was built between 1950 and 1980. They live in buildings of poor quality that are now several decades old.

But the plans cannot focus on the physical aspects of the city alone. These environments are often where the financial crisis has taken its greatest toll. Therefore any improvements must come with economic stimulus plans, as quality of life cannot be shaped by energy efficiency, mobility and urban services alone. Most people are currently mainly concerned by unemployment and the sluggish economy.

Quality of life can be improved for city dwellers without excessive technification, while the economic scenario demands that we capitalize on what is available now rather than make unnecessary investment.

We have been forced to use our ingenuity to optimize physical and economic resources. Optimization does not simply mean reducing consumption, but also identifying new opportunities, seeking out prosperity and improving the quality of life of city dwellers by using innovation as a part of urban management. The smart city concept incorporates these premises. The socio-economic improvements that our working group at BBVA Open Platform-Big Data. Big Data seeks, based on the data generated by the bank's commercial operations, are just as necessary as remote monitoring measurements and urban system controls.

Society can truly benefit if we can understand this data and are able to read cities from fresh perspectives. Our analysis of transactional data represents the foundations on which new proposals can be shaped.

CBy comparing the performances of indicators that we work with, we can help streamline investments, to assess the relative size of each problem, identifying hidden or counterintuitive relations between areas and pinpointing shortcomings in different sectors. This means potential benefits in numerous fields: tourism, facility planning, transport system management and organizing cultural events, to mention just a few.

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Saibal Chowdhury (not verified)

As a global banking institution, you probably have to use data to understand how every city is so different. Even within Asia, where we have studied few cities, each are different with different dynamism and complexity. But two things are common to all - every city wants to be a magnet for business and people and second that cities are all a platform of transactions - social and business . From urban technology perspective our aim is to build a generic model that can be applied to any city - for analysis, modelling and design

I like you comment on the use of big data to re organize the spatial configuration rather than investing in new infrastructure. This is a good message for cities in Asia and Latin America where we see a huge capacity gap in municipalities. Having somewhat understood the data model, we think the challenge is not data but finding the right business model. We think collaboration with financial institutions is a good starting point.