[Image above] Researchers from Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago have developed tools that provide city planners with something greater than the sixth sense—analytics. Credit: Argonne National Laboratory; Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Despite a decline in global fertility, the United Nations estimates that the world’s population is expected to climb to 9.6 billion by 2050—and 10.9 billion by 2100.

Further, Earth’s inhabitants—particularly those who live in urban areas—are more or less a moving target.

McKinsey & Company reports that though 600 urban centers currently generate more than 60 percent of global GDP, by 2025, the makeup of this group of 600 cities will be very different. Their Global Institute anticipates that over the next 15 years, “the center of gravity of the urban world will move south and, even more decisively, east,” with two-thirds of the growth expected to occur in China and India.

As a result, city planning has become a process far more complicated than blueprints and bike paths.

Potable water. Food. Energy resources. Environment.

Whether NYC or Orbit City, planning for these future cities requires taking into account those needs for clean drinking water and available and accessible sources of food and energy—all-the-while preventing major disruption to the urban (or soon-to-be-urban) environment.

What if there were tools that incorporated scientific analysis into the urban-design process, lending data to decision making?

Thanks to the work of researchers from Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and the University of Chicago, there are.

One of the most promising is LakeSim, “a new platform that seeks to help developers plan at massive scales while anticipating the ability to build in future scenarios such as climate change, improved efficiency in buildings and transportation systems and increased renewable energy and/or micro-grid applications.”

The platform has been prototyped to assist in the development of 600 acres of land on the South Side of Chicago, where site developers hope to transform an industrial brownfield into six new Windy City neighborhoods that offer regional and neighborhood retail and office space, housing, entertainment, and recreation.

According to an ANL news release, LakeSim provides something intuition can’t—analytics. Like ceramics, “large-scale planning is both an art and a science.”

“For a single building, developers have to make decisions based on varying reports from the energy developers, the economic analysts, transportation planners, and others,” says LakeSim’s coprincipal investigator Charlie Catlett, computational scientist at Argonne and director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data, in the release. “The challenge is what to do that with hundreds of buildings going in over a 20-year timeframe.”

The answer to this challenge comes from libraries of data, detailing “dozens of building types” and their structural parameters, supplied by the Energy Department and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, who has assisted in the prototyping partnership along with Clean Energy Trust and McCaffery Interests.

It also involves incorporating 3D design system CityEngine, which presents computational models that can help the designer “question, analyze and interpret data that reveal relationship and trends” and “analyze changes with respect to energy demand over time”—and the Energy Performance Standard Calculation Toolkit (EECalc) developed by Argonne and Georgia Tech, which measures the energy efficiency of a design.

Lake Sim coprincipal investigator Leah Guzokwski, Argonne energy policy scientist and fellow at the University of Chicago, believes these tools will help in better (and more scientifically) forecasting energy use under a variety of conditions—and developing cities and buildings that help manage such use. “It will be especially interesting to turn our attention to determining economically viable supply-side options that minimize future global impact, and to do so in a way that is not constrained by conventional infrastructure bounds.”

Ed Woodbury, president of McCaffery Interests, agrees. “These tools are really based on looking at lots and lots of different scenarios to provide any developer in the world with science-based insight about the long term consequences of design decisions,” he says in the release. “Without such tools, rapid urbanization will be guided by 20th century ‘educated guess’ urban design principles. That process may have worked in the past, but it’s not going to produce the cities that we need for the 21st century and beyond.”

Watch the short video below to see exactly how LakeSim is lending the assist in the Lakeside development.

Credit: Argonne National Laboratory; YouTube

What do you think of LakeSim? Will it help us developer smarter, more sustainable, cities? Let us know in the comments.