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LakeSim: Designing Future Cities

By Rob Mitchum // October 9, 2014

All around the world, cities are building new neighborhoods and developments at a scale never before seen in human history. Designing these massive construction projects — and ensuring that they are energy-efficient and livable for decades to come — exceeds the limits of the tools architects and urban planners have used in the past. So the CI’s Urban Center for Computation and Data, in partnership with architecture firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the Clean Energy Trust, and developers McCaffery Interests, are developing a new, more powerful platform for city design, called LakeSim. With the 600-acre Chicago Lakeside Development on the South Side of the city as its test case, UrbanCCD scientists at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory are combining high-performance scientific models with modern urban design tools to produce long-term and high-resolution estimates for critical urban dimensions such as energy, transportation, wastewater, and more.

In a feature for the Argonne website, writer Justin H.S. Breaux describes the potential of this platform to move beyond intuition and small-scale estimations to a better understanding of design decisions and potential future scenarios.

Currently, data assimilation and modeling is typically performed using desktop machines. But as you can imagine, providing real-time calculations affecting hundreds of thousands of parameters that exist in an urban environment takes a lot of computing power. Perhaps in the future, a tool such as LakeSim could require resources located at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, which houses Mira, currently the fifth fastest supercomputer in the world.

With this computing power, urban planners could better anticipate extreme weather or power outage events and build safeguards into the structures and energy systems they design. Imagine a power outage on Fifth Avenue during the daytime in July of 2045. By running a multitude of scenarios, and determining how each structure and block responds to certain events, planners could optimize the balance of energy with more solar or wind power, or increase energy storage capacity to a particular section of a city development, minimizing the effects of major weather or energy events.

This would give energy producers and builders a more scientifically rigorous range of potential energy demands in the near and far future in minutes, allowing them to better anticipate the need for renewable and traditional forms of energy before they lift a shovel.

To accompany the article, Argonne also produced a video that mixes footage of the Chicago Lakeside site today and in the future with interviews about the LakeSim project with UrbanCCD’s Charlie Catlett and Leah Guzowski and Ed Woodbury from McCaffery Interests. “What’s really exciting about this site is it’s a brown field development, so that really means that we essentially have a blank canvas to really develop the site in a smart way,” Guzowski says.

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