Espoo City recognised for its Economic Potential, Human Capital & Lifestyle. URBS Data project fortifies this reputation through it’s progressive research into Smart Urban Development.
Written by Laura Quinton, 27.02.2017
The latest edition of FDi Magazine opens with the strapline: ‘With Europe in Flux, which locations have investment potential for the long haul?’ The specialist publication (from The FT Ltd) provides industry leading insight and analysis on cross-border expansion, greenfield inward investment and foreign direct investment trends. And it’s annual EU Cities & Regions of the Future listings have just recently been published.
Espoo City has been placed twice in fDi’S European Cities and Regions of the Future 2018/19 Rankings. No.8 in the top 10 for Economic Potential and No.5 for Human Capital and Lifestyle (in the Small European Cities of the Future 2018/2019 category).
This came as no surprise to us, at GOInternational Finland, since we have been privy to the trailblazing projects that have been driving the City’s mission to establish itself as a fully-fledged Smart City.
Espoo City’s forward-thinking ambition is exemplified through the URBS Data project, driven by Dr Aija Staffans, leader of a research group in urban planning at Aalto University, Department of Built Environment. The ‘Data Integration and Knowledge Co-Creation for Smart Urban Development’ (Urbs-data) Project aims to renew the urban planning system in Finland. By supporting the accelerated development of digital business solutions and services, the target of the URBS-data project is data integration, knowledge co-production and the overall digitalization in the context of urban development.
‘We aim to make a good leap in getting forward in 1) improving the connectedness of BIM and GIS based city models; our built environment is a continuum of different scales and the computational technology should support this, and 2) bringing together the planners and tech geeks; in many organisations, both in cities and in companies, the tech people and the designers/planners do not interact enough (this is not only a problem of our field but a more general one); this means that many of the planning support systems developed to serve the practice face a lot of scepticism’. – Dr Staffans
The project aims to combine expertise from multiple fields – construction, city development and IT – to create new internationally marketable digital services and tools. The project approach closely integrates Public-Private-People and Academia, in a democratic and practice-led problem setting.
R&D is being carried out in an iterative process in the context of a real-world case study; The project is being directly implemented on the urban renewal of the Kera area in Espoo and has brought together three private companies (Cityfier, Tridify and Sitowise), with Pekka Vikkula, Urban Project Manager at City of Espoo, and Academic expertise from Aalto University led by Dr Staffans.
Through this project, Kera is set for sustainable growth. According to Espoo City, the plan for Kera is to create a climate-friendly, bustling neighbourhood that will attract new business activity thanks to its highly competitive transport links. Previously an industrial area, under the new plans it will be transformed into a diverse new neighbourhood for living and working. The area’s residential properties are expected to consist largely of apartment developments.
Dr Staffans explained –
‘From a research point of view urban planning is very demanding because of its long time span; the case studies must be selected very carefully to find the right moment for intervention, otherwise you might not get any results during the project. In URBS Data, we spent more than half of the project time to ensure Kera´s relevance not only to us but to the City of Espoo and to all companies. This has been the biggest challenge so far. But when we finally in the end of 2017 confirmed Kera to be our pilot, the consortium has worked enormously well together’.
Under the plans, the area is due to provide housing for at least 14,000 residents along with some 10,000 jobs. Pekka Vikkula, Project Director at the City of Espoo’s Technical and Environment Services, commented:
“Kera offers absolutely first rate potential. It will be possible to create a brand new ”Kera Valley” residential area complete with local services. It will be centred around Kera station, between the new Karamalmi business area, which is currently undergoing rapid development, and Nihtisilta. The area is already home to a number of businesses that have been closely involved in planning the future developments. Thanks to the excellent public transport links, we will be able to pursue high-density urban development, particularly in the immediate vicinity of the station, where we will really focus on catering for pedestrians and cyclists.”
The URBS data project sets out to maximise the success of the development through three routes. Firstly, by looking at how the city model can be used as a way to collaborate, with public participation. The second focus is on the routes which cross over the existing railway and how building these routes may affect the whole Kera area. The third consideration is on the gathering of data and data management between the private companies and the municipality. Professor Staffans is aiming to redress the separation between software ecosystems around building information modeling (BIM) and geographic information systems (GIS).
‘This separation is a consequence of separate evolution paths,and non-coordination of practices between a multitude of stakeholders. For this project, we wanted both companies which develop services to the field (software, data service, modelling etc.) and companies which buy these services (property developers, architects, cities). This was the basic criteria’.
The consortium comprises Bonava Finland Ltd, Aihio Architects Ltd, Aalto University Properties Ltd, City of Espoo, Aalto University, Sitowise, Tridify and Cityfier (A-insinöörit). This entity is led by Aalto and the three latter companies have their own R&D projects, which support the URBS Data research plan;
Tridify offers the latest in BIM (building information modelling) data, the process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places. As a company, it understands their importance to the future of the construction industry. Constructing a redevelopment plan, in this instance of the Kera area, in virtual reality before trying it for real, not only helps the project stakeholders to work out problems in the design stage; it also allows for a more collaborative approach with other, otherwise siloed, expertize. www.tridify.com
Cityfier is a digital service that measures the distances between selected qualitative components and forecasts the value increase of investments. The tool can be used to compare different urban planning options and support decision making. A digital service where they combine master plans, urban research and housing market data for landowners, investors and developers. Cityfier essentially analyzes and forecasts the future value of a given location. www.cityfier.com
Sitowise is an infrastructure design and consultancy company with a strong focus on information modelling and management. They help cities and infrastructure owners to gain cost efficiency by digitalizing planning, construction, maintenance and asset management. Their expertise covers GIS & location intelligence, spatial data infrastructures (SDI) and 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM), which together form a dynamic platform that enables efficient integrated planning and smart city applications. http://www.sitowise.com
For the URBS-data project, Sitowise has focused on developing its’ Louhi service to serve the needs of infrastructure and construction projects. Sitowise’sLouhiis a browser based map service that provides a live collective dashboard of all relevant urban data on any device from desktops to mobile devices. Louhi has full 3D GIS and BIM compatibility, and support for APIs and open OGC standards and interfaces. This enables Louhi to be integrated seamlessly into urban development processes and connected to other information systems, data sources and software. Louhi is a dashboard that increases understanding of complex urban issues among decision makers, urban developers, investors and residents (urban dwellers). Access to the right data at the right time offers several benefits for urban development process, such as faster and more efficient design, construction, maintenance and management processes, better design and production quality, and lower costs.
Oskari Liukkonen, Digital Services Consultant at Sitowise, explains that Louhi is being used in the URBS-data project to facilitate collaboration and information exchange between City officials, consultants, engineers, constructors and residents involved in the Kera urban development project. In this project, Louhi is being connected to the design processes to visualise the project data and manage information in spatial context. In addition, Louhi integrates into spatial data management processes and spatial data infrastructures of the city of Espoo to realize the full benefits of BIM, e.g, it works as an initial data catalogue for consultants, engineers, constructors in design and construction processes by providing a real-time view to city data.
‘The URBS-data project has strengthened our view of the need for collaborative digital tools in urban development processes. We have benefitted from the discussions, fresh ideas and direct feedback received in project workshops. This has enabled us to learn valuable insights about the use cases and our technology, and iterate faster in our product development. We are already utilizing our learnings in both internal company processes and ongoing client projects with our Louhi service.’
By working together on the Kera project, the collective will be combining their expertise and looking at simplifying, enhancing and accelerating the current outdated and overly complex city development cycle – finding a way to develop the area to add value to the separate businesses as well as the future residents of Kera and society-at-large.
Pekka Vikkula is thrilled to be a part of the project stating that –
‘…the volume of information that needs to be processed at the various stages of city planning is increasing. The output of this project is an excellent example of how digitalization tools can produce new tools for managing and coordinating increased data volumes. In fact, I am amazed that there are finally good visual applications to support the development of community structure’.
Professor Staffans states in her project briefing that –
‘The emerging Smart City paradigm requires a holistic approach that goes beyond technological components to focus on the significant innovation of the processes. In addition, previous (urban) development efforts have lacked an agile approach in close collaboration with both public and private sector, while having a strong scientific methodology. However, the Urbs-data research framework is now drawing upon positive experiences in the alternative approaches, by allowing business opportunities to direct research efforts.’
‘City models play a crucial role in this process and enable the integration of the huge city related data, which at the moment is scattered in many organisations. Digitization increases the efficiency of planning but also improves the conditions for collaboration and participation, which is my most important expectation. However, what I would like to emphasize in this context, is the need for face-to-face interactions between people as well. Urban planning is a very complex system and full of interests, value choices etc, which make the “human input” necessary. Our vision is that urban planning as a practice is a combination of advanced technology and face-to-face collaboration. This is our understanding of planning support systems.’
According to the project Mission Statement, ‘the research methodology for the Kera Project utilizes both quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitative methods have centered on modeling, emphasizing the agent-based modeling approach. In addition, quantitative methods have derived from the well-developed theory of decision-support systems, with a particular emphasis on multi-criteria decision-making methods. Qualitative methods include interviews and focus groups. Moreover, an important aspect of qualitative research methods includes ethnography for identifying development of planners’ knowledge. This ‘mixed methods’ methodology will follow the principles of co-design, leveraging the capabilities within the multidisciplinary community of the Urbs-data project.’
Finnish cities are under increasing pressure to improve the efficiency and predictability of urban planning and development processes. The URBS-data project is responding to this societal challenge by providing concrete proposals based on strong empirical studies and a real world case.
Pekka Vikkula –
‘If these tools become part of normal urban planning, it is obvious that they interact, interactively, with residents as well, not just as a tool for designers. I believe that especially 3D-based visuals, coupled with timely development, also support better service providers for timely placement in different areas. This will also contribute to improving the residents’ enjoyment. The use of visual tools, in itself, creates better opportunities for different views. To support this, clearer tools can be created in addition to housing management, housing sizes, and timing of different service structures (kindergartens, schools, retail services, green spaces, Sports Opportunities)’
The URBS Data project is slated to be completed in two years time, and we thoroughly look forward to seeing how the group’s work will impact the urban development process and more importantly, how it will create a long-lasting and flourishing urban neighbourhood in Espoo, one of Europe’s Cities of the Future!
For more information about this innovation cluster and the Kera urban development project please contact; Dr Aija Staffans, [email protected] and Pipsa Pokkinen, [email protected]
URBS Data Project Mission Statement: Digitalization is shaping planning of urban environments, offering potential for creating significant value from data. However, in practice, the field is facing implementation and integration gaps, preventing a large portion of benefits from digitalization. By focusing on interdependence between data, tools, and processes, Urbs-data aims to support accelerated development of digital business solutions and services. The project focuses on participative planning support systems (PPSS), a novel concept that enables data integration and knowledge co-production. Moreover, Urbs-data builds upon lean management methodology exemplified in the Big Room approach. The project approach closely integrates private, public, and academic sectors, in a practice-led problem setting.