Urban Planning & Technology – A never ending chase!

Beginning of change!

Humans have always tried to understand and explain everything which happens in their surroundings, inside them and even far outside in endless space. The curiosity of humans led to their evolution and resulted in the way we exist today. The never-ending attempts to gain more and more control over nature among other things results in marvelous discoveries and inventions.
Heraclitus rightly said “The only thing that is constant is change”

Inventions are primarily result of “needs”. As to seek the desired results technological advancements took place at a rapid rate. With the invention and improvements in computers, technology grew at a much rapid pace as compared to time when computers didn’t exist. With the quantum leap in the computing power and storage capacity more and more research took place to solve more complex problems and mysteries which always astonished us. This progression in technology took a long time but the growth in last 15-20 years was enormous. This advancement helped almost each person to achieve more, improve their skills and excel in his or her work.

Urban Planning, which is a relatively new field experienced remarkable changes with adoption of technological advancements. It is matter of past to see some hand drafted plans as that now demands high-end softwares. Drafting is now digital and hand work is limited. Technology changed the practice of hand drafting to CAD. With further progression use of drafting & analysis software is now penetrating the world of urban planning. CAD did made life much easier with the option to make changes and save files without having to make them all over again, use of GIS further added the power of CAD. The shift from CAD to the use of GIS in Urban Planning is gradual but it is required and now being adopted attributed to the multiple advantages which GIS softwares present over simple drafting softwares. Who doesn’t like to simplify his or her work! The use of GIS softwares, internet, satellite imaging services by NASA, ISRO, Google, exponential increase in computing power, remote sensing now makes it possible to incorporate use of information and communication technology (ICT) in cities to improve efficiency and provide a better quality of life. The complete concept of smart cities revolved about extensive use of ICT in planning.
On the other hand realising the importance of urban planning many companies & organisations undertake research to meet the custom requirements of this industry. This is where technological advancement is driven by urban planning. The specialised nature of urban planning requires engineers and scientists to think from a different perspective to meet the demands. Use of conventional technology is of little help when the problems being dealt are complex.
The scale of work which ranges anywhere from few hectares to hundred of square kilometers requires very advanced hardware and software combinations. A single solution is not applicable on multiple cases thus tailor-made solutions needs to be adopted. Further, taking into account the long-term goals of planning requires simulation. One cannot expect to wait for years to check the outcomes of the proposals. Moreover the number of parameters which affect planning proposals are countless. This makes it impossible to achieve the set goals without a margin of flexibility. The criticism of planning approaches being rigid in nature is a long debated topic and thus the provision of feedback and monitoring was introduced in rational planning model. This model is widely used even today as it accounts for the changes which take place and accordingly changes can be made. All this requires working with countless parameters, long duration and dynamic nature of human settlements resulting in a very difficult simulation. The simulation results are not accurate in real life but still the are very crucial as it saves billions of bucks and understand the results of various alternatives. This also helps in preventing the actual implementation of available options on ground which might result in problem for citizens for whom planning is being done.
This simulation and planning is supplemented with the special and spatial data requirements. Collecting and compiling the data makes the task tedious. A complete data processing cycle is adopted to get information about the existing situation. The need to collect primary and secondary data is done both manually and softwares. This is yet another example when planning drives technological improvements. Improved and automatic data collection is done by use of technology. Automation is gaining importance in urban planning just like in almost all other fields. Better survey data is bound to provide valuable insights while planning for both new and existing areas. Time series data is another vital component of the field. More and more data is now available to make predictions, estimation, projections and forecasting. These include population projections, traffic volume count and increase, composition and growth of different segments of vehicles, distribution of income and other socio economic data to list a few.
To conclude, the race between urban planning and technology is never-ending. Advancement of one will result in betterment of other. It has formed a give and take situation. With the passage of time both will help and support enhancements in both area.

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