To better understand the dynamic behavior of cities, the city of Portland and IBM have collaborated to develop an interactive model of the relationships that exist among the city's core systems, including the economy, housing, education, public safety, transportation, healthcare/wellness, government services and utilities. The resulting computer simulation allowed Portland's leaders to see how city systems work together, and in turn identify opportunities to become a "smarter city." The model was built to support the development of metrics for the Portland Plan, the city's roadmap for the next 25 years.
All cities are made up of a complex system of systems that are inextricably linked. The city of Portland and IBM set out to understand how these systems interact with and affect each other in order to improve long-range city planning. New policies implemented in one part of the city can affect other city efforts, citizens, businesses and the environment in unexpected and sometimes counter-intuitive ways. IBM's System Dynamics for Smarter Cities model is designed to help mayors and other municipal officials reduce the unintended negative consequences of municipal actions on citizens, as well as uncover hidden beneficial relationships among municipal policies.
"By overcoming silos in the way we think, we are able to better visualize how our city systems work together and develop policies that achieve multiple objectives to help realize the full potential of our city," said Sam Adams, mayor of the city of Portland. "By collaborating with IBM and applying the power of innovation, we have created an exploratory model that arms our city leaders with ways to explore decisions. In turn, that can help us become a Smarter City."
IBM approached the city of Portland in late 2009, attracted by the city's reputation for pioneering efforts in long-range urban planning. To kick off the project, in April of 2010 IBM facilitated sessions with over 75 Portland-area subject matter experts in a wide variety of fields to learn about system interconnection points in Portland. Later, with help from researchers at Portland State University and systems software company Forio Business Simulations, the city and IBM collected approximately 10 years of historical data from across the city to support the model. The year-long project resulted in a computer model of Portland as an interconnected system that provides planners at the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability with an interactive visual model that allows them to navigate and test changes in the city's systems.
As an example of how the model could be used in practice, recently the city of Portland laid out plans to achieve a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. The city already knew that shifting some trips away from driving to active forms of transportation, such as walking and biking, would be a part of how Portland meets its goals. However, when the IBM model was used to explore other relationships to active transportation, it revealed an interesting connection. The model reflects that, on average, obesity levels decline as more people walk and bike. Similarly, if obesity levels go down, active transportation becomes a more attractive option to more people. Essentially the tool highlighted a reinforcing feedback loop that could be used to jump start a continued cycle of improvement. Since shifting to walking and biking reduces driving trips, the obesity/active transport loop could be a self-reinforcing policy lever to address carbon goals.