The role of data reimagining the future of urban infrastructure

Published in Nov 11, 2020

Author – Cittamap

Our world is at a turning point now with complex challenges, the climate and biodiversity crises. The COVID pandemic has revealed problems in our systems, and our delayed move to act on fundamental issues. Part of the reason for the current crises can be summed up to complexity, fragmented, and siloed thinking. But we live in a world that is connected, a trait that extends far beyond the digital connectivity that is familiar now.

In this article, we discuss the reason behind the climate and biodiversity crisis, the impact on cities, and the role of the infrastructure sector.

Climate on Earth has been steady for 10,000 years, and now we have risen a 1 degree rise in average temperature. This is due to the increased green house gases emitted from built environment, vehicles, industries, agriculture, fossil fuel industry. The solar energy coming from the sun is trapped due the thicker green house gas layer. This in turn raises the temperature, an important lever that influences the bio-geo-chemical processes, and physical forces that support life on the planet.

Temperature anomalies due to green house gases

Pressure on nature is unprecedented, with an estimated 1 million species at risk of extinction by 2100. This can be directly attributed to our consumption patterns, and land-use change of cities ever expanding into natural areas. The megatrend of urbanization is diminishing and destroying the ecosystems that fuel this very growth.


Cities face the effects of this climate and ecosystem changes affecting half the world’s population. This affected population is projected to increase by 2050 to 9 billion people. The powerhouses of human society, emit more than 75% of the green house gases, and yet only occupy 2% of the landmass on the planet. The challenge and opportunity both lie in cities to act.

Urbanization trend projections

The biggest immediate threat is the increasing extreme weather events. With rising temperature, cities are hotter, storms are heavier, flooding is more intense, and wildfires are frequent. The number of extreme weather events in 1980 was around 200, which has quadrupled now, and only going to increase. From immediate, short term, and long-term threats; resilience-based development will play a significant role.

It also gives us the opportunity to make cities as the ground zero for action. The buildings, roads, offices, power plants, cars; all driven by consumer choice, can be redefined for a sustainable climate neutral world. This reduces the projected impact of risk factors while transitioning to a green and nature-based economy.

Role of data in the infrastructure sector

Infrastructure companies have the disproportionate burden of building the cities of the future. New buildings, roads, energy, water, communications infrastructure needs to be built in a sustainable way, and consider the additional resilience factors.

These cross-cutting themes of buildings, energy, climate risks, air quality, green spaces, demographics, economy have to be considered during planning, implementation, maintenance, and retrofitting of the infrastructure projects. The lifecycle of these assets extends 40 to 50 years, and any decision taken now, will be subject to lock-in effects. Building and infrastructure that exist today, will exist in 2050, so retrofitting becomes crucial. This is reflected in the renovation wave plan of Europe. New development is already subject to regulation, but climate risks are growing threat, that requires prudent planning.

We can observe the compounding nature of the actions taken today. The good news is the availability of the data to make sound, data driven decisions towards climate neutrality. A project developer, can consider the climate risks such as urban heat islands, flooding, waterlogging, drought, along with poor air quality, sufficient green spaces, potential for renewable energy generation, demand for energy infrastructure to adapt the plans.

Shifting to the new way helps save significant time, helping spark the data culture of the future organisations, and powering the data strategies. The trend in this direction is also clear with data scientist, analyst, and chief information officers now part of organisations. The IT spend which roughly takes 5% of the budget, will increase to accommodate data purchases, and processing. The immediate effect is operational efficiency and the annually reaping benefits of asset security over the lifecycle.
The future cities have been imagined already, and even the rules are set with the European Climate Law. This ability to act now, is possible with the availability of data, and an evident option for a climate neutral reality.

This article was written by Cittamap

Header picture by Hanna Zhyhar on Unsplash