When Local Digital Twins (LDTs) first emerged on the scene, their areas of application focused predominantly on urban structures and processes. Typical use cases have included traffic and mobility management, air quality monitoring, assessment of energy consumption and efficiency in buildings. This soon led to criticisms that LDTs pay insufficient attention to the social dimension, arguably the most important element of any smart city.
But what is a social dimension, and how best to represent it in LDTs? This was the question that COMPAIR tried to answer at the Connected Smart & Sustainable Cities and Communities Conference 2023, during a special session on ‘Local Digital Twins: Making Use of Available Data.’
If a LDT is used to address social problems linked to rapid urbanisation, population ageing, air pollution or traffic, for example, can we say that a social dimension is present? What about when citizens use LDTs, whether to leave feedback on new construction projects or to experience a city in Virtual Reality, is social dimension addressed then? Perhaps we can talk about the digital triplet (physical, digital, social) when citizens collect data for a LDT?
COMPAIR presentation during a panel on LDTs: Making use of available data
We think that all these can be elements of a social dimension, but of course one that is most relevant to COMAIR is the one in which citizens act as data collectors. In COMPAIR, citizens use low cost sensors to collect hyper local data on air quality and traffic to inform urban planning decisions e.g. neighbourhood circulation plans, school streets. Not only that, we’re using a LDT platform developed by another project (DUET) to integrate CS data into existing LDTs in Flanders and Athens.
DUET LDTs of Flanders (left) and Athens (right)
Through this effort we hope to demonstrate the added value of combining citizen science and LDTs, and thus accelerate their adoption in policy circles, which is still lacking today because a) citizen science is still rarely used as a data source for urban planning purposes, and b) LDTs have yet to transition from being an experimental tool to one that is actively and regularly used by decision makers to improve the way in which cities are planned, built, monitored, and managed.