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Modeling our urban and environmental futures at UCD

Tuesday, 10 October, 2017 


The interconnected character of human and natural systems requires an integrated approach in urban planning and decision making. Cities are influenced by global factors such as population growth, migration, urbanisation, recession and climate change. They are also influenced however by the actions of local parties or companies who may direct the development according to their own vested interest, and not the broader public’s interest. Confronted with such complexity, decision makers need advanced tools to better understand and evaluate the effects of policy interventions in urban regions.

Led by Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow Dr Harutyun Shahumyan and his scientific advisors Associate Professor Brendan Williams (University College Dublin) and Professor Gerrit Knaap (University of Maryland), the EC-supported GeoSInPo project aims to achieve a thorough understanding of the dynamic processes involved in urban and environmental models and different approaches for their integration.

Developing a new integrated model linking multiple disciplines is a costly and time-consuming process. Usually, it takes years if not decades, and deep knowledge of several experts in the field to develop, calibrate and validate a single model for a region. Instead, the GeoSInPo project has focused on how to best couple existing discipline-specific recognised models within a Spatial Decision Support System (SDSS) to inform decision makers through evidence-based scenario and policy analysis. The model coupling approach developed in the project aims to make integration of existing models easier, overcoming challenges such as differences in programming languages, unavailability of the source codes or licensing restrictions. It has been successfully applied for two case study regions:

  • the Greater Dublin Region - coupling independently developed land use and water quality models.
  • the Baltimore-Washington Region - coupling five independently developed models including land use, transportation, building and mobile emissions and land cover.

 

The integrated suites are now being applied at the National Center for Smart Growth, University of Maryland and at the UCD School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy to simulate and explore alternative future scenarios for these regions going as far as 2040. The SDSSs generate several useful socio-economic and environmental indicators, covering: population and employment, transport flow, land use, building and mobile emissions, water quality and more. 
The results of these two case studies are promising. The independently developed models smoothly exchange data in a single modelling platform, allowing non-technical users to focus on analysis and results. Moreover, this approach allows for the addition of new models relatively easily. Adding environmental models to the policy decision making process will help to assess how social-economic changes and policy decisions in the Baltimore-Washington Region ultimately impact water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, or in the Liffey Catchment and Dublin Bay.

 The data and supporting documentation generated by GeoSInPo are published publicly and are available for other researchers, thus enabling the platform to be easily applied to other models for other regions.

From a scientific perspective, the work is set to significantly contribute to global understanding of human activity and environmental linkages in urban areas, enabling improved policy development and decision-making focused on ensuring urban sustainability.

More details on the project as well as relevant publications and podcasts are available in the project website at: http://geosinpo.shahumyan.org.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 623436.