Geospatial data and the urban challenges right to the spot

"The oldest known maps date back to 2.300 B.C.E. and were carved into stone tablets” (Jennifer Billock, 2017).

One of the fabulous maps from the National Geographic archives.

I have always been interested in History and Geography. Numbers and calculations made me cry, but geography, maps, and understanding civilizations used to put a smile on my face when most of my classmates were falling asleep.

Well, here I am today: an Architect and Urban planner who followed her intrinsic interests by diving deeper into urban-related topics. Exploring the development of cities and the possibilities these complicated, crowded, polluted, and yet exciting hubs of innovation could unlock became a genuine passion.

Recently, I joined interests and explored the use of geospatial data in my master's thesis. At times, the geospatial data processing software also made me cry, just like math in school — nothing like challenging your brain to overcome past traumas—but the final result has unveiled a whole horizon of possibilities right in front of me.

I was born and raised in São Paulo (Brazil), and I have been living in Hamburg (Germany) for the past 3 years. The decision of using geospatial data processing and analysis came with the idea of assessing the transferability of an urban mobility solution from Hamburg to São Paulo. At first, this idea sounded like a crazy endeavor.

"Hamburg X São Paulo? Geospatial data? What was I thinking?" This thought crossed my mind countless times.

Two beautiful pictures of two beautiful cities. Hamburg is in my heart (above), and São Paulo is in my blood (literally, since I probably still have particulate matter floating on my bloodstream given so many years of breathing polluted air).

Well, turns out, among many other pleasant discoveries, geospatial data has proven my assumptions wrong, showing that both cities' urban morphologies are not that different, despite both cities' tremendous discrepancies. And through geospatial data analysis, I came to the conclusion that the mobility solution center of my investigation could also operate in the Brazilian monstrous city, given the proper adjustments and adaptations were taken into account. But this is a story for another chapter.

The potential of the use of data to the achievement of urban sustainability in a world increasingly technological and digitized is very exciting. And we are not talking about a sci-fi movie future, it is happening now!

The collection and processing of data and big data, added by AI and machine learning, enables a series of innovative solutions within the urban realm. The understanding of travel behavior patterns, transportation demand prediction, real-time urban management, the creation of new business models like Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), car, bike, and ridesharing and so much more are among them.

To know more

But, don't believe in me! There is plenty of information online and academic research available. For now, I would recommend this UN-GGIM report: Future Trends in Geospatial Information Management: The Five to Ten-year Vision. And also this McKinsey report, about how GIS technology can improve city services.

If you would like to see something truly alluring about what the collection and processing of data can do, check the almost 40-year time-lapse of our planet, featured by the king of geospatial data: Google. Have fun!

I am an Architect and Urban Planner, a Sustainability Professional passionate about cities and sustainable development. The future is here, and I am loving to see what it holds!

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Juliana Webel

Juliana Webel

Architect and Urban Planner; experienced Sustainability Consultant and advocate. Passionate about sustainable development. We have to do things differently!