For decades, the best city planning simulation was not a simulation for city planners at all, but the extremely popular city building game SimCity, says Peter Calthorpe, an expert in this field and co-founder of UrbanFootprint.
Calthorpe began his career as an urban planner and designer in the late 1970s and mid-1980s, together with the famous architect and designer Sim Van der Ryn, he wrote the book on sustainable communities.
Calthorpe worked on design and development projects in Portland, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and (my home state) South Louisiana and approached urban planning from the point of view of climate resilience and sustainability. At the same time, he developed a number of tools that were to become UrbanFootprint ,
“In our practice, we looked at a tool that was used to collect all the data [and] organized it so that intelligent queries were possible … [It] People could ask questions and plan scenarios, ”Calthorpe said in an interview.
This tool became the basis for UrbanFootprint, with which certain developments can be visualized and the software used to model the results that, according to Calthorpe, would occur in certain design decisions.
“Because cities are so complex and interconnected in all their dimensions, the healthiest and best way to think about possible outcomes is to look at multiple outcomes at the same time,” he says.
Ultimately, it's not much different from SimCity.
Calthorpe's partner in the project is Joe DiStefano, who serves as the company's general manager and has been a long-time colleague of Calthorpe's work in his homonymous city planning firm (which was sold to infrastructure development giant HDR last May).
UrbanFootprint was spun off from Calthorpe approximately three years ago and is now looking to expand thanks to an investment of $ 11.5 million from venture capital firms, including former investor Social Capital and new investors Valo Ventures and Radicle Impact.
"Companies in all major industries recognize that you have to understand them to be successful in cities," DiStefano said in a statement. "With easy access to important planning data and analysis, UrbanFootprint offers a new solution for everyone who focuses on cities or urban markets in order to build more efficiently and sustainably."
The company's software cleans up and curates records, including open data from local government agencies and commercially collected records, to create a super schema of land use across the United States, DiStefano says. The software then serves existing conditions based on queries for each property wherever the UrbanFootprint software contains data.
Around half of the world's population lives in cities today, and this number is expected to reach 70% of the world's men, women and children in the coming decades. "Almost every major problem we face … all of these things overlap in the way we design cities, and yet there is no instrument that people can use to think about them coherently," says Calthorpe. "We are a platform on which people can understand the city for themselves."
This understanding is useful not only for city planners and architects, but also for companies that range from manufacturers to healthcare providers.
The American Lung Association uses UrbanFootprint's tools to understand how urban density and air quality can generally affect respiratory diseases and health, Calthorpe said.
That's only an example. Global strategy and design consultancy Gehl uses the software from UrbanFootprint to analyze the optimal locations for micromobility companies to place bicycles and scooters in the neighborhood, and how these decisions affect the accessibility of jobs and the amenities in the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, the much-slandered Northern California utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, is using UrbanFootprint to see how heat waves affect their infrastructure and distribution network, the company said.
"PG & E's climate resilience team is working to help PG&E build a resilient system that can continue to deliver safe, affordable, and reliable energy to customers in the face of the growing risks of climate change," said Heather Rock, chief climate resilience PG & E. “To this end, we use forward-looking climate data to better inform how we plan and protect our infrastructure, employees, customers and communities in which we operate. UrbanFootprint is an important partner for us, because we are looking for data and tools with which we can consider and mitigate these risks. "
Investors such as Jay Zaveri, a long-time partner of Social Capital, see UrbanFootprint as part of a growing number of technology companies that are developing tools for the urban environment.
"Cities are superstructures for culture, lifestyle, aspirations and well-being – the real" social networks "in our lives," said Zaveri in a statement. “Since 2018, UrbanFootprint has helped private and civil planners, mobility and energy companies carry out nearly 4,000 projects in over 700 cities in the United States and provide answers to complex scenarios within a few hours. This is a phenomenal effort as we will move to seven billion city dwellers by 2050. The urgent need of this decade is the resilience and readiness for urban systems. "