Other | 20. January 2020 | posted by Thomas Esch

Smart data for sustainable cities

Credit: DLR
Analysis of settlement patterns using spatial network analysis

Earth observation and artificial intelligence can be used to assist with sustainable development decisions. Some years ago, Earth underwent an epochal change, albeit one that was consciously perceived by only a few of us. For the first time in human history, more people are living in cities than in rural areas. Although this might not seem particularly remarkable at first glance, this change will ultimately affect each and every one of us, whether directly or indirectly – because the future is urban.##markend##

In our blog 'Smart data for sustainable cities', we intend to show how the Smart Cities and Spatial Development team at DLR's Earth Observation Center (EOC) in Oberpfaffenhofen uses satellite data and machine learning techniques to provide researchers and decision-makers with novel information about the built environment, in order to assist with the implementation of sustainable and liveable cities.

According to the most recent United Nations report, 70 percent of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. It is also expected that by that time, 90 percent of population growth, 80 percent of the increase in wealth and approximately 60 percent of energy consumption will occur in urban areas. As a result, global urbanisation has a key role to play, as urban centres are the places where new things are produced and the future is created. It is here that the way in which future generations will live and conduct business will be decided

Excerpt Global Urban Footprint
Credit: DLR
Excerpt from the 'Global Urban Footprint' (GUF®) map of the northwestern USA

How can the myriad opportunities of urbanisation, which is taking place all over the world, be shaped in a sustainable way and put to proper use for the good of society? At the same time, to what extent does rapid urbanisation affect our habitat, for example in terms of land utilisation, air and water contamination, the consumption of resources or the threat of 'gridlock'? And to what extent are city-dwellers and urban infrastructure at risk from natural disasters and the consequences of climate change?

Answers to these questions will need to be found over the coming decades. In order to address them, science, government and society at large require one thing above all – reliable data and the knowledge derived from them. This is where our research comes in.

Over the coming months you will be able to follow our blog as we focus on developing targeted technical solutions based on a combination of Big Data (satellite images, survey data, statistical and geographic surveys, social media, etc.), machine learning, cloud computing and modern information technologies to gain new insights that will help to promote sustainable urban and settlement development. Our partners in this endeavour include the United Nations, the World Bank and commercial organisations such as Google. Find out more in our upcoming posts …

Credit: DLR
Animation of annual settlement growth in Cairo, Egypt over the period 1985–2015

About the author

Thomas Esch has led the Smart Cities and Spatial Development team at the DLR Earth Observation Center (EOC). to authorpage