How Big Data Solves the Urban Planning Challenge?

Urban planning is becoming a challenge with growing populations and big data is stepping up to solve urban planning challenges. Big data has proven to contribute to improving challenges often affecting urban areas such as carbon emissions, urban mobility, and city maintenance.

Over 280 cities have been converted to smart cities in the past decade and the results have been astounding, especially in Europe and Dubai in the Middle East.

The trend is set to continue at a better pace and by 2030, it’s predicted to be an entirely different world in terms of how the smart cities will shape up the societies.

Looking into the next decade, there is incredible potential for big data to solve urban planning as the smart city market grows and gain immense value. Technology has become engraved in society and people becoming highly dependent on various aspects of AI.

Big Data Urban Planning Challenge

The rise of big data in urban planning

People are increasingly growing dependent on the Internet of Things (IoT) devices leading to a dramatic transformation in the urban planning industry. The development of big data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI and data visualization are allowing for incredible innovations in urban planning.

Data integration is allowing for the progress of cities at a rapid pace and some of the areas of urban planning. Some of the benefits of urban planning are quite multifaceted. Here are some of the areas of big data can influence urban planning:

  • Analytical and predictive technology to preempt transportation and traffic patterns
  • Improving safety for the general public by streamlining data analytics for public safety such as street cameras with facial recognition
  • Big data analytics have the potential to influence how households operate by regulating energy supply and usage
  • Creativity can become quite limitless in terms of innovations to improve service delivery and active citizenry

Analyzing the impact of big data on urban planning

Like anything, introducing the concept of smart cities to an ordinary city can be overwhelming to the citizens and it comes with pros and cons. Difficulties may incur in adoption, and not all citizens may be able to afford some technology that requires the participation of the user. Here are some pros and cons of embarking on the innovation of nature:


  • Analytical data can influence a city by creating a better way of managing city resources. It becomes quite easy to measure resources and ensure that accurate figures are available for resources affecting different industries. These aspects can include consumption, production, data processing, and resource distribution.
  • It is obvious that people’s attachment to technology and IoT devices is based on the fact that convenience is easy to come by. Big data can influence urban planning by improving public engagement, simplify communication between planners and dwellers and speeding up responses to issues reported by citizens.
  • Technological advancements also create the opportunity to provide precise data and enable accurate forecasting. Big data also allows urban planners to gather information in real-time and this allows for planning from an informed perspective.


  • At times, there may be gaps for corporate hegemony, which can result in a power imbalance or provide ineffective solutions. The potential inequality is created by the fact that only a few providers are capable of delivering smart city solutions and this can create room for exploitation in certain areas.
  • When it comes to technological advancements, one of the concerns that have been forefronted is the compromise of data and online security. It still remains unclear in the development of smart cities whether citizens are able to opt-out and continue their analog lives.
  • Infrastructural uncertainty is another concern as most big data systems rely on electricity and the latest software to continue running. This means that systems are vulnerable in times of limited power and other failures that may result in dire outcomes.
  • Another risk is that of greater inequality in countries that have large disadvantaged populations. The development of a smart city also requires matching technology to be used by its citizens and it is not always available to them. The integration of big data in urban planning can lead to decreasing opportunities for the poor to participate in the digital landscape.

Honing a data-driven society

Data analytics can create improved systems that ensure that resources are properly managed. Developing countries often struggle with ensuring that their leaders do not squander precious resources or are not looting from public funds.

The integration of big data into urban planning allows for the improved asset management of a city’s infrastructure to encourage equal distribution. Having a city upgraded can lead to the reduction of risk involved in initiating new projects and make room for innovations to streamline the distribution of resources.

Furthermore, collaborative efforts between governments and private companies will improve in creating more awareness and developing products that cognitive of citizen’s needs. An excellent example of a partnership of this nature is Dublin’s partnership with Mastercard to create the City Possible Initiative.

Quantifying big data in city management

Due to limited case studies, it is difficult to measure and fully understand the impact of data-driven city management. However, so far, it can be noted that various city dynamics can be transformed by big data including transportation, resource management (water, energy, and social services), everyday activities (socializing, working and safety) and the economy.

Deeper research initiatives have been formulated to analyze the impact start cities have on their residents but it has allowed for a growth in economic engines. The development of smart cities sees the need for more than architects, urban developers, and sociologists but also demands the work of programmers, mathematicians, IT professionals and statisticians.

The collaborative opportunity means that it is an opportunity to bring unlikely but innovative minds to the table of development. Typically, these professionals would not collaborate on a single project but building a contemporary city is quite complex and requires diverse talents. Hybrid teams are becoming more popular in the data revolution and have a role in innovating improved living conditions.

We have seen many examples of how the digital and physical world can merge and this has resulted in great strides in urban planning through augmented reality technologies. Another country that is leading in the adoption of a data-driven city is Singapore which used French software company, Dassault Systèmes, to create an urban dashboard.

The dashboard allows for data concerning the city to be made available in real-time and this includes transport availability, traffic reports, weather, and public health data. This has resulted in people being able to respond to disasters with haste and gain access to assistance at a faster rate.

The bottom line

Urban planning is always fraught with questions, and this particular is not without its own doubts and questions. With the 4IR becoming an integral part of how the world functions, it is no surprise that the very planning of our cities is transforming.

Urban planning does not only have to rely on big data in the future, as that approach may leave a large part of society behind. However, data and analytics that are accurate can be used to create an all-inclusive approach to urban planning. Cities and urban areas are always developing at a rapid rate and are never complete, and perhaps big data can make sense of these complexities.

The availability of information and development of the urban landscape go hand in hand in ensuring that resources are available and equally distributed. Although most cities in the world cannot afford smart city development, some have employed a few changes to integrate big data and the results have been quite interesting in solving complex challenges. Big data has the potential to change and manage processes, and it will be interesting to see collaborations between tech companies and governments developing further.