As I addressed the audience at the recent Esri User Conference in San Diego, one of the first things I did was to ask them to ponder: “What’s next for our planet?”

The evidence is clear that the human footprint on the natural world is greatly impacting our lives. Overpopulation; climate change; drought; loss of biodiversity; increasing urbanisation – we find ourselves at a turning point that humans have never before encountered. The pace of this change is accelerating almost exponentially, and creating many challenges for us, potentially threatening our future as a species.

To address these challenges, we must understand our world more deeply. My organisation, Esri, is doing this by helping governments use location intelligence to both organise and understand all the interconnections between the natural and the technological. Governments can manage and analyse geographic information to solve problems holistically with geospatial technology.

This will require collaborative and decisive action from government, industry, academia, and society. I am thrilled to see smart cities all over the world use location intelligence to solve their most defining problems. Here are three examples:

1. Co-designing the future

One trend that I have observed recently is how location intelligence is key to collaboration. If planners, managers, and the public have access to open and connected spatial data, they can all understand the challenges the city faces, and access the proper tools and resources to address them.

Esri’s ArcGIS Hub platform brings together a city’s data, visualisation, analytics, and collaboration technology, and also shares open data and apps from over 2,000 organisations around the world. Citizens can join Hubs in their communities and contribute data, provide feedback, attend events, follow initiatives they care about, and create and share analyses.

In Myanmar, for starters, the government has developed an open data portal for participatory mapping to address land issues in the country. ArcGIS Hub allowed local authorities and communities to raise land legal awareness and address community land-related concerns.

2. Predicting with AI

Artificial Intelligence is a crucial tool in a smart city’s digital transformation, helping governments to understand behavior and act accordingly. Geospatial analysts work in concert with AI to automate information processing and expand their understanding. Enabled by algorithms, city planners can design better roads once they know how traffic will behave by predicting drive times.

In Kuwait, the Public Authority for Civil Information has developed a hyper-local search engine called Kuwait Finder, which connects citizens to the local goods and services and provides traffic information. Faced with the daunting task of crunching data from every Kuwaiti driver, Esri’s team of engineers turned to machine learning. The programme learned to fill in the gaps in traffic information and create more reliable driving directions, even when it did not have specific data on hand.

And in the case of New York City’s Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in the summer of 2015, AI helped city officials make location-based predictions of where the bacteria were likely spreading from.

3. Getting crucial information in real-time

Real-time GIS has come to the fore, brought on by the rise of sensors, nimble drone platforms, and ubiquitous handheld devices. Location intelligence is so much more effective if you can see what is happening everywhere the instant it is occurring.

How does this affect the man on the street? The Indonesia Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, for example, recently launched the Smart Weather App for the 2018 Asian Games in partnership with Esri. The application delivers real-time and predictive weather insights to help ensure event organisers can quickly identify and respond to potential weather issues.

The safety of athletes and spectators is paramount, and the recent news of the earthquake that devastated parts of Sumatra also thrusts into the spotlight the need for reliable communications in the event of natural emergencies.

These three trends reveal how location intelligence is key to shaping future cities. There will be a massive transformation, and Esri is thrilled to support governments in their smart city journey.

I look forward to seeing more cities leveraging geospatial technology, along with a holistic design mindset to create a more sustainable world. Put simply, smart city planning is about applying the power of location to create a better future.

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