Open data must "lean in" for smart city growth

By Dominique Davison

Population growth and the resulting demands on infrastructure in the world’s biggest metropolitan areas brings new challenges to designers, planners and architects who are collaborating with city and county government to usher in the future sustainably.  

In all metro areas of the United States, the escalating cost of delayed infrastructure maintenance as well as limited financial and environmental resources — such as significantly decreased rainfall in western states — drives the need to design environmentally resilient yet economically feasible modern cities. 

This begins with smart city and building planning that can more accurately, reliably and rapidly provide data. It also requires an attendant efficiency scoring system that addresses efficiency concerns like the use and cost of water, electricity and fossil fuels. It must also provide metrics on smarter placement of stores, transportation and other resources.

Municipalities demand that developers and builders meet adopted energy goals. However, the current planning, design and building process often makes it difficult and costly to integrate sustainable strategies in new and renovated buildings and to gauge compliance in the early phases of design. 

This means that design and engineering professionals consistently struggle with integrating sustainable design solutions, as they cannot easily or cost-effectively justify or reconcile the potential cost premiums associated with sustainable designs. E.g. would it be cost justified to use solar panels for a new building’s entire roof?   

Building developers and owners seek an ROI, yet the cost premium to develop resiliency often does not yield the most profitable first cost option. Understanding basic life cycle costs has been expensive and time consuming - up until now.

Fortunately, the open data movement can bridge the gap between performance planning, cost justification and desired outcomes for builders and designers.  Open data is any data that can be freely published, used, reused and redistributed by anyone for anyone. Open data information means getting data, sometimes even in real time, that empowers developers while saving time and costs.

Being published by federal and local government entities as well as private companies, open data is helping to drive key information for builders. This wealth of data impacts the majority of design concerns related to energy, water, transportation and geographic location.

But having an ocean of data will not bring home the system and scores required.The next challenge is to integrate it with best practices. Here are some key design examples:

  • Stormwater Infiltration quantifies the overall perviousness of a site and amount of rainfall based on weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It also includes site area, composition/area of site surfaces and exemplifies the application of the system to see potential impact on city utility infrastructure.
  • Energy Savings  return the savings in dollars per year from energy improvements to the project based on planned use compared to code minimums, based on your utilities local rates.
  • Water Usage returns a water savings score based on planned and standard water usage calculations, as well as expected simple payback of those efficiency improvements.
  • Transportation Access represents an average score of U.S. Census data and Transportation and data, as walkability and connectivity via transportation options is a growing priority for communities.

The result is that a holistic data model is conceived with anticipated energy savings that steer optimal and budget friendly outputs.

The evolution of open data is in its early stages. It will play an expanding role in resilient, sustainable design and building, helping our industry make good on the vision for tomorrow’s smart cities, buildings and homes.


Dominique Davison, AIA LEED APtm, is the founder of PlanIT Impact, a cloud-based, resource assessment tool whose goal is to make sustainable design and planning more accessible, affordable and achievable. 

Please or Register to post comments.

What's Viewpoints?

It features the Editor's Viewpoints and contributed commentaries.


Derek Prall

Derek Prall is a professional journalist who has held numerous positions with a variety of print and online publications including The Public Manager magazine and the New Jersey Herald. He is a 2008...

Jason Axelrod

Jason Axelrod is an award-winning journalist who has reported for The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Business Journal and Mother Nature Network, among other outlets. Jason...
Blog Archive
We use cookies to improve your website experience. To learn about our use of cookies and how you can manage your cookie settings, please see our Cookie Policy. By continuing to use the website, you consent to our use of cookies.