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Digital Applications for Urban Planning

Digital Applications for Urban Planning
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The Open Urban Planning Toolbox is a collection of open-source applications to facilitate urban planning tasks by obtaining, analyzing, and visualizing territorial data. Even in the era of Big Data, on many occasions the lack of official data results in a barrier that prevents the application of new analysis and mapping technologies. To overcome this obstacle, the Toolbox is designed to take advantage of large open-access geospatial databases with global coverage: information collected by crowdsourcing, public repositories of satellite images, information produced by research centers, etc. The toolbox components specialize in different tasks such as automated mapping of informal settlements, obtaining accessibility indexes to essential services, or simulating future scenarios to anticipate the growth of a city and the impact on its environmental footprint.

Offered as free software, the tools can be downloaded and used by anyone. In addition, and in partnership with the IDB's Code for Development initiative, live sessions, video tutorials, and step-by-step documentation are available to learn how to install and apply them.

MAIIA: Automated Mapping of Informal Settlements with IA

Among the tools in the Open Urban Planning toolbox is MAIIA (Mapping Informal Settlements with AI), an algorithm that allows automated mapping of the location of informal settlements in any city by analyzing satellite images. MAIIA was first used in Barranquilla, Colombia, and then used in other municipalities in the country, such as Manizales, to train an algorithm capable of generating maps, which can be updated frequently, of the extent and position of informal neighborhoods.

We are working for MAIIA to be used in cities in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, among others.


Another tool to highlight is UrbanPy, which uses functions implemented in Python to obtain and process urban data. UrbanPy provides commands that allow obtaining digital cartography with the geographic limits of any city, estimating its population with high granularity, locating places of interest such as schools or hospitals, and even calculating travel times through the local street system. All this, using global open databases. These functions were developed to make it possible to easily obtain urban accessibility indicators, determining the distance of the population to key service points (pharmacies, hospitals, banks, schools, etc.), and generating detailed maps indicating the degree of isolation of each sector and the amount of population affected. This tool allowed the Mayor's Office of Manta, Ecuador, to generate indicators of accessibility to health, education and security to add to the territorial data used to prioritize intervention zones.

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Urban Sprawl Simulator

Software with an easy-to-use graphical interface that consults satellite data repositories to determine the land use evolution of any urban region, along with its demographic growth over time. Then, by means of simulation algorithms, it allows tracing different future trajectories of urban sprawl. For example, it is possible to contrast the expected growth according to historical trends vs. "compact" development with higher density. The tool also estimates the environmental impact of the different scenarios, calculating the carbon footprint of each future city alternative.

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Urban Heat Island Detector

Heat islands are urbanized areas that experience considerably higher temperatures than neighboring areas. They generate a negative impact by requiring higher electricity consumption for cooling, generate ground-level ozone ("smog"), and degrade public health through their association with heat stress. To identify them, we developed a graphical analysis interface based on open data sources. This tool detects and delimits heat islands within urban regions and presents them on a map with information from the immediate previous year, along with a predictive analysis of the magnitude in the future. And to suggest possible courses of action, it performs a cost-benefit analysis for various mitigation strategies considered in the current scientific literature.

How to estimate the growth of cities with open-source data?

In a recent webinar of the Cities Network and the Cities Lab we presented an open source tool that automatically consults satellite sources to determine the physical and social characteristics of an urban area and then predicts by simulation different scenarios of future growth, estimating the degree of greenhouse gas emissions.

Artificial Intelligence in the cities: urban planning and public management

In this webinar we presented Artificial Intelligence solutions as management tools with social impact. We also made available to the audience the MAIIA tool, an algorithm that allows automated mapping of the location of informal urban settlements by analyzing satellite images.

Open Source for Urban Planning: Tools and Implementation

How to improve urban planning processes using Open Source? In this webinar we presented the Open Urban Planning Toolbox and the tools it includes to improve urban planning - from the initial design to the implementation and evaluation of projects. Also, the city of Manta (Ecuador), presented its experience using UrbanPy, which measures the accessibility of the population to key service points (pharmacies, hospitals, banks, schools, etc), generating detailed maps that indicate the degree of isolation of each sector and the amount of population affected.


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