Navigant Research Blog

Crunching the Data for Urban Mobility

— March 3, 2015

One of the hottest areas of urban innovation is mobility. Cities are grappling with ways to reduce congestion and vehicle emissions while enhancing the transport options for citizens. Infrastructure improvements are, of course, critical to this strategy in the form of new mass transit systems, the deployment of EV charging networks, or the creation of bicycle sharing schemes, for example.

However, a less expensive but critical piece of the puzzle is the delivery of better information so residents and visitors can make the right choices about their journey options and to enable the better management of the existing road and transport systems. As a consequence, a host of new players are entering the market to deliver services to both travelers and cities.

X-Ray Specs

Urban Engines is one of the most notable new players. Formed by a group of former Google employees, it developed its first advanced analytics solutions were aimed at city operators for improved management of transit systems. The company has now launched its first app for travelers, which provides transit options and map data across seven U.S. cities. In addition, an augmented reality overlay called X-ray mode maps transit information against a real-time image of current surroundings provided on a phone camera. Urban Engines not only uses spatial analytics to provide journey planning, but also wants to use behavioral economics to help cities incentivize citizens on the most efficient forms of travel.

Urban Engines does not have this market to itself, of course. CityMapper, for example, has been building its portfolio of city travel apps for a number of years and currently covers 12 cities in North America and Europe, plus Mexico City and Tokyo. It provides analysis of alternative options for user spanning walk routes, cycle routes, public transit, and taxis.

The Next Wave

Journey-planning applications are just one aspect of the changing landscape for transportation and travel data in cities. A new wave of start-ups is trying to expand the range of data that can be captured on city activities in order to provide new services and insights into movement across urban spaces. Some notable examples:

  • Veniam, founded in Porto, Portugal, provides networking technology that turns vehicles and infrastructure into Wi-Fi hotspots. By adding its networking technology to vehicles, it hopes to create a massive network that will generate a vast new range of data on the city as well as enhancing the communication capabilities for people and things.
  • Placemeter, a New York-based start-up, is paying people to use their old smartphones to monitor their neighborhood for people and traffic. This anonymized data can then be used to inform people or businesses about current conditions (for example, traffic levels or queues for restaurants), as well as for analysis about general trends in activity in the area.
  • TravelAI, a U.K. startup, has developed software to exploit crowd-sourced smartphone data to develop new levels of insight into travel patterns and mobility options for cities and citizens.

Of course, cities also have data from their existing traffic management systems, transit information systems, and bike-sharing schemes. And to this picture, we can add the recent announcement that Uber has agreed to share its journey data with cities, starting with Boston. These rich seams of data are increasingly available for cities and entrepreneurs to develop new services and new tools for urban mobility management. The data gold rush for urban mobility has just begun.

 

What It Will Take To Transform Buildings in Large Cities

— January 22, 2015

From New York to Los Angeles, a growing number of the largest U.S. cities are recognizing that tackling building efficiency translates into progress toward climate resilience.  The underlying assumption is that better information leads to action.  As these cities compile baselines on commercial building energy use and educate the public on the cost-effective opportunities for energy reductions, the next question that arises is whether building owners will take action.

New York State of Mind

New York City was the first to launch a comprehensive strategy to tackle energy waste in commercial buildings through four local laws under the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan.  The complementary laws not only mandate energy benchmarking but require performance upgrades to meet local energy codes for citywide renovations, major retrofits in buildings over 50,000 SF to meet lighting efficiency standards, and the installation of submeters by 2025.  Mayor Bill de Blasio has continued the commitment to improving the city’s climate readiness and, in September, announced a new goal for a citywide 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.   According to a recent article in The New York Times, the mayor’s office estimates that the energy efficiency advances in buildings deliver tremendous economic benefits.  According to the director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, the city spends $800 million a year to run its facilities, and energy efficiency retrofits could generate $180 million in annual savings by 2025.

Best Practices

The City Energy Project (CEP), a national initiative directed by the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), aims to help 10 cities design energy efficiency plans and share best practices for promoting change in their largest commercial buildings.   Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City (Missouri), Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Salt Lake City have each joined the project, according to the CEP fact sheet. As outlined on the CEP website, in 3 to 5 years, the initiative will create transparency on building energy use and create financial vehicles for investment in energy efficiency.

New financing channels are a critical element in the mission to tackle commercial building energy efficiency.  While many of the most attainable energy efficiency improvements can be low-cost or no-cost improvements through scheduling and procedures, transformational changes require capital investment.  The challenge is how to engage building owners with financing mechanisms that enable those investments.

Opening the Purse

At the 2014 World Energy Engineering Conference, held in October in Washington, D.C., several sessions honed in on the challenge of financing energy efficiency.  The market recognizes the opportunity and benefits associated with energy efficiency, but the reality is that capital budgets are tight.  Former President Bill Clinton, the keynote speaker, declared, “Financing is holding back the energy revolution.”

In Navigant Research’s view, the challenge is two-fold.  On one hand, there is the opportunity to adjust perspectives on energy efficiency investment.  Advocacy efforts, such as the CEP, could help building owners broaden their views from a focus on payback to a longer-term view of how energy efficiency and intelligent building investments enhance the value of their facilities.  On the other hand, our research suggests that a change is underway in the performance contracting and shared savings models that have helped fuel investment in energy efficiency historically.   Watch for a new report on energy service companies and the transformation of intelligent buildings financing in 2015 as a part of our Building Innovations Service.

 

Explosive Growth Drives India’s Smart Cities Movement

— January 19, 2015

In June, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi announced the country’s goal for the development of 100 smart cities.  Fundamental to this vision is the development of smart buildings.  According to a recent article by Surabhi Arora, director of research services for Colliers International, “The advantage of following smart building concept is that they can be considered as future-proofed assets. … The shift to smart buildings has only just begun, and will now accelerate very quickly with proactive government support.  It is the time for forward-thinking developers and landlords to prepare themselves to lead, rather than follow, the change.”

My colleagues James McCray and Lauren Callaway recently commented on the drive to create a more resilient and smarter grid in India.  As with that effort, India will face some inevitable challenges on the path toward developing smart buildings.  According to the United Nations, Indian cities will see populations burst with an additional 404 million people by 2050.  This rate of urbanization will put unprecedented pressure on city infrastructure and resources.  Smart city and smart building goals speak to the priorities for sustainability, climate change readiness, and human welfare, but economic commitments will be critical to see these objectives come to fruition.

Outside Forces

The international community has recognized the opportunities in India, and Japan, the United States, and Singapore are major government allies for the Indian smart cities agenda.   According to an article in Forbes, the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), a 1,000 kilometer stretch between Delhi and Mumbai, will be a major focus of the smart cities development plan.  It’s projected that the new manufacturing and commercial centers within the smart cities will require upwards of $90 billion from international investors.  The smart city development in this corridor is integral to the nation’s vision of becoming the “Global Manufacturing and Trading Hub,” according to the DMIC Development Corporation, the government partnership between India and Japan.  The international interest for participation in the development of these smart cities also stems from major technology companies such as Microsoft and IBM.

A Chicago a Year

The Indian government is pushing the smart city agenda forward through an important round of stakeholder planning meetings that began at the end of December.  The government recognizes that accomplishing its vision will be no small feat; as one government official explained, “a new Chicago needs to be built every year.”  The political commitment, international interest, and growth demands in India represent a major opportunity for smart building technology companies.  India’s smart cities movement could demonstrate how smart buildings deliver significant cost savings through energy efficiency and strategic facilities management, and could become a hub for the spokes of the smart city infrastructure.

 

Back to the Land, in the City

— December 23, 2014

Urban farming may sound like an oxymoron, but more and more cities are looking at the role of urban food production to reduce the embedded carbon cost of transporting food long distances (food-miles), to improve food education, and to regenerate run-down city areas.

In many cities, of course, there has never been a clear line between the city and country.  A new study, for example, indicates the degree to which urban farming has a significant role in city economies.  According to the report from the International Water Management Institute (IWWI), around 69 million hectares (around 6% of the world’s cropland) are being cultivated within cities.  Furthermore, 456 million hectares (1.1 billion acres), an area roughly the size of the European Union, is under cultivation in close proximity to urban environments.

Urban farming is widely practiced across the world: 87% of cities greater than 50,000 have some irrigated farming and 98% having some rain-fed cropland.  The report suggests that there is significant potential for the local sourcing of food for the growing cities of the developing world, but it also highlights the issues this presents in terms of water and wastewater management.  In particular, a lack of water treatment facilities means that there are significant dangers to human health from cultivation that uses unclean water.

Scaling Up

In Accra, for example, 10% of the city’s wastewater may be used for urban farms without adequate treatment.  Another study has estimated that 85% of cities discharge their wastewater without appropriate treatment.  Strategies to support and expand local food provision for growing cities must, therefore, be closely aligned with improvements to water distribution and water treatment systems. Developing cities need to find ways to integrate existing urban farming sites with their water management and land use policies if they are to retain the benefits of local production.

In the developed cities of North America and other parts of the world, urban farming has been recognized since the 1970s as an important tool to help community regeneration programs in areas like the Bronx in New York.  Now cities are looking to technology to make local production viable at a commercial scale.

To Feed the Center

For example, Lufa Farms is running two rooftop gardens in Montreal using hydroponic technology, which provides nutrients to plants through an integrated water system rather than soil.  They have also been reassessing the sales and distribution issues that are equally important to make urban farming commercially successful.  Other technologies to enable large-scale urban food production include aquaponics, which integrates fish and plant farming, as practiced by Urban Organics in St. Paul, Minnesota. Urban Organics is located in a former brewery and is part of a broader, city-supported urban regeneration program.  In Europe, LokDepot in Basel, Switzerland is the first commercial aquaponics farm.

Any true measure of a city’s total energy consumption, its environmental footprint, or its economic resilience needs to consider the relationship between the urban center and the resources on which it relies.  Food production is one of the most important of those resources.   In different ways the community gardens and high-tech vertical farms of North American and European cities and the farming enclaves of Accra and other cities in Africa and Asia all show how cities need to think more locally about food production.  As droughts and expanding urban populations put pressure on water supplies and food costs, an intelligent approach to food production will become a critical issue for many communities.

 

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