From passing Measure M in Los Angeles to improve transportation infrastructure to discussing potential measures to protect Seattle against the ramifications of housing Amazon HQ, city leaders often struggle to find solutions that address urban problems and please all stakeholders at the same time. A startup in the Bay Area called UrbanFootprint, however, has developed a system that promises to do exactly that.
UrbanFootprint, the byproduct of software and services company Calthorpe Analytics, has developed a tool to help city leadership, urban planners, and residents find solutions that solve a number of problems at the same time.
The idea behind the software is to predict how the ideas of urban planners may impact a city over time. With a number of scenarios resulting from a single policy change, it becomes easier for stakeholders to come to a final decision on how urban problems can be solved.
The software has access to approximately 100 data sets on employment, neighborhood demographics, urban transportation, infrastructure and more. When the data regarding the proposed policy is plugged into the tool, machine learning software filters through the data and provides environmental, social, and economic metrics. The only outcome that the system cannot predict is changes in rent.
Aside from the data sets, UrbanFootprint also uses data collected by government agencies through smart infrastructure around cities.
Using these data sets, the system can tell how plans for expanding housing near a transit hub could impact traffic or the environment, for example. More notably, UrbanFootprint could potentially help cities find more inclusive and sustainable solutions for the last mile in urban transport.
One of the biggest challenges cities in the U.S. face is finding ways to decrease the last mile in public transportation systems, which is the distance between the last stop on their mode of transport and their final destination.
For Peter Calthorpe and Joe DiStefano, co-founders of UrbanFootprint, the software is not simply about fixing multiple problems at once. Problems with infrastructure, transportation, or the environment, among others, are usually linked to other urban problems as well.
Calthorpe and DiStefano see merit in placing these problems at a crossroads in order to find the common link between each problem. Once this common denominator is identified, the software can easily come up with a solution that solves multiple problems simultaneously.
The dynamic duo at UrbanFootprint have spearheaded projects everywhere from Portland to Louisiana. Using the software, the two came to see how predictions could also imply what kind of changes could yield better solutions for cities.
Although UrbanFootprint was built for American cities, the startup is currently working with the Chinese government to help build cities for the country’s booming population growth. In 20 years, China’s urban population is expected to grow by 300 million people. “So getting cities right,” Calthorpe said to Fast Company, “is really at the crux of the well-being of mankind.”