More than 3.5 billion people live in cities worldwide, and, according to the U.N., 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030. This urban influx creates a need for city developers and planners to innovate and revitalize these spaces. But where to start is the question.

Today, city leaders are increasingly turning to digital technologies to accommodate growing populations and address the environmental and infrastructure challenges they bring. Through its CityNext initiative, Microsoft is matching city leaders with the right digital transformation partners who can support them to make their cities resilient, safe, sustainable and inclusive — and is illuminating the path for leaders to reach the U.N.’s sustainability development goals.

Using big data, IoT, cloud computing, machine learning and predictive analytics, Microsoft’s CityNext partners work with world leaders to improve infrastructure, support energy and water resource management systems, revitalize aging transportation networks and renew ecosystem services — leading the way into a new era of sustainable urban living.

Getting around

Transportation solutions are critical to urban sustainability. Today, more cities are leveraging devices, sensors and data to optimize the systems residents use to get around.

“Today, city leaders are increasingly turning to digital technologies to accommodate growing populations and address the environmental and infrastructure challenges they bring.”

Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest city. Its booming population is outgrowing its aging, inefficient transportation network. Recently Auckland Transport, the public agency that oversees transportation in the city, made a plan to improve its services through more than 200 capital improvement projects. One project is City Rail Link, a ten-year undertaking that will feature a new underground rail line and will create both efficiency and savings.

Meanwhile, Cubic Transportation Systems — which integrates payment information and related services for intelligent travel applications — uses the Microsoft Cloud to better and more securely manage data in cities around the world. The company modernized Miami’s EASY Card revenue management system for transit across bus, train, bike-share and ride-share options. In doing so, it reduced congestion, improved traffic flow and promoted economic growth while saving energy. Cubic also uses the cloud to optimize transportation in London, where smart bus and underground systems serve about 11 million people daily.

Strong foundations

Urban sustainability also relies on smart building development and energy management and monitoring to work towards achieving net-zero energy usage.

Cadillac Fairview — one of the largest owners, operators and developers of best-in-class office, retail and mixed-use properties in North America — strives to achieve this in its facilities. By leveraging big data to create insights, the company has renovated buildings across the organization to meet LEED energy standards and enable energy efficiency. Now, one of Cadillac Fairview’s 45-year-old commercial buildings is performing as competitively as new buildings.

Microsoft was able to implement similar solutions at its own 500-acre headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Rather than spend $60 million on construction to achieve energy savings, engineers invented a software solution which strings together thousands of building sensors that harvest billions of data points weekly and gives engineers insights that enable more intelligent decision making. The program saves the company millions in maintenance and utility costs.

By looking at sustainable development from the ground up — from smart building development to transportation to energy management — cities can make life better for residents while using resources more efficiently and reducing pollution. Working together, city leaders, Microsoft and its CityNext partners can optimize existing investments and find the right combination of solutions, partnerships and social programs that will accelerate innovation and create sustainable cities where people can make a real impact for a better tomorrow.