City Digital Twins: the future of urban management

By  | 2024

In the rapidly evolving landscape of urban management, City Digital Twins (CDTs) are emerging as a transformative technology. But what exactly is a CDT, and why is it generating so much interest?

What is a City Digital Twin?

A City Digital Twin (CDT) is a digital replica of a city that integrates real-time data from various sources and fields into a comprehensive 3D model. This digital representation allows urban planners and decision-makers to simulate and analyze the effects of different actions on the city’s infrastructure and environment. Essentially, a CDT provides a living virtual model of a city, continuously updated with data from IoT devices, sensors, and other digital inputs to evaluate and simulate various scenarios within context.

Cities around the world like Seoul are exploring the potencial of City Digital Twins.

Currently, CDTs are experiencing a timely boom, and this is no coincidence. The maturity of technologies such as IoT, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence now allows for the collection, processing, and analysis of massive amounts of real-time data and the modeling of different possible scenarios. Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the need to be prepared to manage unforeseen crises comprehensively, positioning CDTs as an innovative solution for urban response to these disruptions. Finally, initiatives such as the European Digital Infrastructure Consortium (EDIC) provide a regulatory and financial framework that facilitates the implementation of large-scale CDT projects in Europe, promoting collaboration among cities around this solution.

The Multifaceted Utility of City Digital Twins

CDTs serve multiple purposes in various urban domains:

Improvement of Urban Understanding: By visualizing data on transport, energy consumption, water use, and waste management, along with other city aspects, CDTs provide a holistic view of urban systems. This comprehensive vision helps different city stakeholders understand complex urban dynamics.

Simulation and Planning: One of the most powerful features of CDTs is their ability to simulate different scenarios. For example, urban planners can predict the impact of new infrastructure projects or policy changes. This capability allows for anticipating and improving public services.

Efficiency: CDTs can support informed decision-making and administrative processes, making cities more agile and responsive.

Improving traffic management and reducing carbon emissions are among cities’ main objectives when approaching City Digital Twins.

Real Applications: From Traffic Management to Environmental Sustainability

CDTs are being used to tackle specific urban challenges through innovative applications:

Event Management: Large-scale events like sports games or concerts can be difficult to manage. CDTs can simulate the impact of these events on traffic, public transport, and public safety, allowing for better preparation and response.

Sustainable Mobility: Cities like New York and Phoenix are using CDTs to improve traffic management and reduce carbon emissions. By analyzing real-time data, these cities can optimize traffic flows, reduce congestion, and minimize environmental impact.

Public Space Optimization: In cities like Helsinki, CDTs are used to plan and test urban initiatives digitally before implementation. This approach has proven effective in improving urban spaces and ensuring public investments yield the best possible results.

Who’s leading the race?
Notable Initiatives Globally

Various cities around the world are leading the way in CDT implementation:

Barcelona and its Digital Twin: Barcelona, strategically advised by Anteverti in terms of digital infrastructure, is also committed to implementing its Digital Twin, with a primary goal of decarbonization. It already has experience in integrating real-time data infrastructure from various sources including sensors and different urban management systems. Currently, it is participating in European projects, such as VCity with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) and EDIC, which will advance new use cases and exchange experiences among cities to consolidate valuable knowledge and necessary infrastructure.

New York City, United States: Known for its innovative use of digital twins to manage traffic and improve safety, New York City’s project demonstrates the practical benefits of this technology in large metropolitan areas.

Singapore: this nation-city has deployed Virtual Singapore: a comprehensive city digital twin that integrates 3D models with real-time data to support urban planning and disaster management.

Phoenix, United States: Arizona’s capital uses a digital twin to help reduce CO2 emissions and improve traffic management in its metropolitan area. This project is part of a broader initiative to make American cities more sustainable and efficient.

Seoul, South Korea: A Digital Twin Platform monitors urban infrastructure and provides real-time data to optimize city management. Future plans include expanding this platform to a 4D model, incorporating time as an additional dimension.

Las Vegas, United States: Nevada’s largest city has implemented a digital twin to monitor and manage CO2 emissions and improve traffic efficiency. This project is part of the «Clean Cities – Clean Future» initiative by Cityzenith, which aims to reduce emissions and improve urban sustainability through digital twin technology.

Helsinki, Finland: This Nordic capital has two digital twins: one for the city in general and another for the Kalasatama district. These models allow for planning and testing initiatives digitally before actual implementation, enhancing the precision and efficiency of urban policies.

Chattanooga, United States: Uses a digital twin to model and alleviate traffic congestion. Traffic congestion experiments conducted in this virtual environment have shown up to a 30% improvement in traffic flow, resulting in greater energy efficiency.

Helsinki is using a City Digital Twin to digitally plan and test initiatives before actual implementation.

In conclusion:
Who Wouldn’t Want to Predict the Urban Future?

There is no doubt: City Digital Twins are an indispensable tool for modern urban management, aimed at addressing transversal challenges and offering the possibility of a data-driven governance model. At this moment, when we have the necessary technology to integrate real-time data and simulate scenarios, CDTs enable us to predict how to improve the planning, efficiency, and resilience of urban services. Their adoption by leading cities worldwide underscores a clear message: they are a transformative tool for urban prosperity, sustainability, and resilience, ultimately allowing us to face future challenges with greater certainty and guarantees of success.

What about cities? AI and algorithmic regulation are poised to profoundly influence our lives and reshape urban living. Our increasingly urbanized world will become more automated. In this article, we advocate for a collaborative and transparent approach to defining the role of AI-based systems, alongside proposing design principles that safeguard public interest and individual rights. This strategy requires cities to assert themselves and advocate for a responsible deployment of these systems in urban areas. It underscores the urgency of the situation, especially as key industry players grapple behind the scenes (and sometimes in public) over control and the shaping of AI’s near future, while certain countries seek to develop their own generative AI tools.

Cover image – Shutterstock: Barcelona, Spain city map 3D Rendering. Aerial satellite view.

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    About the authors

    Consulting Director at Anteverti | + posts

    Raül Daussà is an expert in urban sustainability, environmental protection, climate change, and diplomacy with over 20 years of international experience in consultancy, project management, and business development. He is Director of Consulting at Anteverti since 2023.

    With a strong background in engineering, a master's degree in scientific communication, and extensive knowledge of the circular economy, he has worked for the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Ramboll consultancy, where he has provided assistance and training to national governments and cities.

    Throughout his career, Raül has led and facilitated consensus among stakeholders on complex technical issues and has a proven track record in institutional development, monitoring and evaluation frameworks, impact assessments, and human resources.

    + posts

    A Ph.D. in Education and ICT and an expert in business intelligence, service management, e-learning, and change management. She regularly collaborates with Anteverti as a senior consultant, leading projects involving ICT and its management. With over 25 years of experience in managing ICT projects and services, designing business and ICT development strategies for large public organizations, including the Government of Catalonia, the Barcelona City Council, and the Government of Andorra. Before completing her Ph.D. at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, she graduated as a computer engineer. She holds a master's degree in E-Learning and an official certification in Change Management.

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