Smart City Digital Twins Help Cities React to Changes in Real-Time 


Innovation for the public sector has always required significant testing and development within a controlled environment before subjecting agencies to real-world testing and ultimately presenting them to residents and constituents. Developers operate within virtual and limited testing environments known as “sandboxes,” where they can freely experiment, evaluate software programs, and proactively detect any potential challenges, such as cybersecurity threats, before they materialize. However, numerous plans and policies could greatly benefit from undergoing a comprehensive testing phase before being fully implemented. Unfortunately, the available avenues for such experimentation have been somewhat constrained.

Smart city digital Twins

Smart city digital twins have the potential to revolutionize this landscape. These environments enable planners to delve into innovative solutions for urban challenges, enhance planning processes, including public engagement and zoning, and tackle intricate issues such as climate resilience, all within a controlled environment replicating the actual city. Simultaneously, they provide a valuable tool for communicating plans and policies and driving desired outcomes.

A city’s digital twin operates on a multi-layered foundation of data that progressively integrates details about terrain, buildings, infrastructure, mobility, and IoT devices. The digital twin then leverages the data generated to conduct further simulations through the virtual smart city layer. The insights gained from these simulations are then fed back into the various layers of the model, enabling their practical implementation in the physical world.

The journey from cities to smart cities

The progress made in technology for smart cities, including the implementation of sensors, communications, and the Internet of Things (IoT), empowers cities to gather data encompassing nearly every movement, flow, or activity within a city. With the abundance of this data, coupled with enhanced computing capabilities and artificial intelligence, it has become possible to digitize entire cities. The convergence of these technologies has given rise to the application of digital twins, thus enabling simulation and experimentation with real-time data.

The benefits of city digital twins

City digital twins can enhance various planning activities, including public engagement, scenario planning, zoning, and development. They hold the potential to aid planners in achieving local objectives related to climate resilience, economic development, housing, and numerous other domains.

They even have the capability to facilitate collaboration among planning organizations and other city departments and agencies. City digital twins eliminate the necessity of allocating valuable time and resources to experiment with ideas that may ultimately prove impractical or receive poor reception. This low-risk, cost-effective experimentation results in significant time and cost savings in the long run.

Building a cities’ digital twin

City twins

A city’s digital twin is really a comprehensive repository for all city data. This data encompasses environmental indicators, resource consumption, zoning regulations, total housing units, and even transportation patterns. When embarking on a project to build a digital twin you must first look to consolidate data from diverse domains into a unified repository, fostering data sharing across various initiatives and programs. This initiative promotes cross-departmental experimentation, which enables a deeper understanding of the interdependencies between policies and infrastructure systems.

Data equity in a smart city

Digital twins simulate nearly everything taking place within a smart city. However, like any digital tool, planners must be cautious when building a digital twin to ensure they are not inadvertently perpetuating inequalities from the analog world into the digital realm. Despite the vast amount of data, it is essential to acknowledge that it could be flawed and requires oversight and augmentation. To ensure fair and equitable outcomes, planners must augment the data to embrace the vast diversity within a city, and this starts with having an equity-first mindset from the beginning.

For instance, mobility data collected from location services typically only includes people who move through the city carrying smart devices, like smartphones. This approach often excludes children, the elderly, and unbanked people, leaving municipalities with an incomplete picture of the community. Cities need to work to fill these data gaps through inclusionary approaches, like sharing data findings with residents to verify them and working directly with on-the-ground community groups to gather additional data.

To ensure more intelligent, complete base data supporting a smart city digital twin, cities need high-quality data governance. Tomorrow’s smart city must show its commitment to responsible data use and governance, adopting an initial set of data trust principles highlighting that data isn’t just for governments and institutions. Communication is vital to ensure that when this kind of data is collected, it improves life and creates a more livable, robust, and sustainable city.

The bright future ahead with city digital twins

Technology digital twins

With an increasing number of cities venturing into developing their digital twins, the potential of this tool extends far beyond its current applications. Cities grappling with the challenges of coastal and riverine flooding seek a means to simulate future flood events, effectively mitigate risks, and swiftly devise recovery strategies. Moreover, numerous cities are navigating the complexities of fulfilling public engagement obligations amidst pandemics or other public health crises. In such circumstances, digital twins prove invaluable, enabling stakeholders to visualize projects and developments, even in remote scenarios.

Others could employ smart city digital twins as a visualization tool, illustrating policies and plans to decision-makers and the public, gathering feedback, and supporting the cocreation of programs.

Irrespective of their specific applications, the core objective of city digital twins remains the same: assisting planners in crafting inclusive and thriving communities. Whether climate adaptation and resilience planning or fostering innovative public engagement, city digital twins serve as versatile, dynamic, and promising tools to streamline planning processes and enhance productivity within planning organizations.

Building your city’s digital twin together

As more cities embrace the potential of digital twins, they unlock opportunities for visualizing projects, mitigating risks, and engaging stakeholders, even in remote scenarios. To explore the possibilities of building a city digital twin for your own municipality, reach out to Hartman Executive Advisors’ government services experts who can provide valuable insights and guidance. With city digital twins, we have a powerful tool to shape the future of our cities, streamline planning processes, and ultimately create more sustainable and productive urban environments.


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