By 2045, the number of people living in cities will rise to six billion globally. Rapid urbanization, compounded with conflicts and climate shocks, brings unprecedented challenges to many developing countries. Increasingly, cities in these countries realize the importance of adopting innovative, inclusive approaches to boosting urban resilience and achieving environmental, economic, and social sustainability.
A critical step in building resilient cities is enabling stakeholders to collaborate on solutions for urban challenges. This is where parametric collaborative urban design comes in.
What is parametric collaborative urban design?
Parametric design is a tool that generates a variety of iterative large-scale designs, such as a city or a neighborhood master plan, by changing dimension, orientation, material, and other parameters to rapidly reflect the discussions of stakeholders – including citizens, civil society, practitioners, and policymakers – and help them reach consensus on the planning of neighborhoods and cities.
Parametric collaborative urban design does more than allowing for real-time visualization of city or neighborhood reconstruction scenarios. It promises to bridge the communication gap between urban specialists and communities and between governments and constituencies – through translating technical documents into imagery and interactive visual products that can easily be grasped and manipulated by the general public. This means that what used to be top-down decisions are now informed by active, bottom-up collaboration.
Rebuilding Fallujah, Iraq
Take the city of Fallujah, Iraq, which sustained extensive damage due to the conflict with ISIS. All its vital functions stalled. During the 2017 Iraq Damage and Needs Assessment, conducted by the government of Iraq with the support of the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the State and Peacebuilding Fund (SPF), satellite data analysis estimated Fallujah reconstruction costs as one of the highest among Iraqi cities from the perspectives of housing, municipal services, electricity, and industry and commerce. It also provided detailed accounts of the extent of the destruction to the street level (see images below), facilitating investment planning for the recovery and reconstruction of each affected sector.
When it comes to the urban fabric, many sectors are integrated and depend on each other for the functioning of the city. Therefore, parametric collaborative urban design can facilitate urban reconstruction efforts in Fallujah and other post-conflict cities – to prioritize neighborhoods and allocate appropriate municipal services based on post-conflict demographic needs – all in an iterative and interactive manner that takes into consideration the changing conditions of population return and the economy.
Three ways to help cities build back better
The World Bank plays a major role to support post-conflict recovery and reconstruction worldwide. It is scaling up its support to sub-national and local planning authorities and municipal services in countries such as Iraq, Yemen, Nigeria, and Myanmar. However, reconstruction efforts often face challenges such as time constraints, weak implementation capacity, a lack of social engagement, and ineffective cookie-cutter approaches.
Parametric collaborative urban design can be an essential tool within the World Bank's frame of development work, and can be used as follows:
- Analytical work: Parametric collaborative urban design can be used for urban data visualization, which can support engagement and prioritization of investments. It can also support assessments and studies for major integrated urban reconstruction projects prior to the launch of works, to ensure the inclusion of citizenry and the integration of different sectors to achieve sustainable urban development.
- Supervision work: Parametric collaborative urban design can allow development agencies like the World Bank to closely support the implementation of reconstruction projects and follow their progress in real time, while addressing hurdles encountered in a timely manner. Moreover, a collaborative process allows the project team to adjust reconstruction projects without hindering the objective – by addressing issues that can be raised by the stakeholders early on, and as the project progresses.
- Project preparation: Parametric collaborative urban design can be used in feasibility studies for reconstruction projects. Most tools available through this approach produce not only visualization for urban projects but can be programmed to estimate costs for specific sub-projects (e.g., schools, public buildings, housing units) that can be further refined through consultations and expert inputs. These preliminary feasibility studies can be helpful in detailing projects deliverables.
In summary, parametric collaborative urban design taps into a wealth of existing information to explore new ways of crafting of urban reconstruction programs. This approach is an opportunity to rethink the production of the urban fabric – through integrating a multitude of critical sectors, such as housing, public places, cultural heritage, transport, and industry – and through the integration of top-down and bottom-up processes.