Modeling the sustainability of cities has been a huge challenge for researchers. But with the rise of geographic information systems, we suddenly have these immense public databases that give us enormous amounts of information about buildings.
A modeling tool from MIT’s Sustainable Design Lab is now helping to support the sustainable growth of the world’s rapidly expanding urban areas. Rather than planning one green building at a time, urban designers and architects can draw a new neighborhood or city and then use the tool to calculate energy use and emissions for the entire collection of buildings in their design. They can also determine how comfortable the residents will be—both indoors and outdoors—and how likely they will be to walk rather than drive. In earlier work, the MIT researchers developed a “solar map” of Cambridge, Massachusetts, that enables residents to find out the optimal solar photovoltaic (PV) installation for a particular rooftop, how much it would cost, and how soon the investment would pay off.