Using AI to Design our Cities

Katie Sheehan (kes2221)

Sustainability Problem: Urban Population Growth and Land Use

Over 50% of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and that percentage is expected to grow to almost 70% by 2050 (IPCC). Cities are the heart of our economic activity, and urban areas from small metropolitans to “megacities” will likely need to host more and more people and business activity within their borders. For cities to be able to handle this excess capacity, as well as accomplish other sustainability goals such as reducing their sprawl to surrounding suburban/rural land; providing safe, clean and affordable housing for citizens; increasing energy and water efficiency; and limiting localized emissions from high-carbon transportation traffic; real estate developers and/or city planners will need to take more and more factors and stakeholders into account as they plan development for increasingly popular “neighborhood campuses”.

Solution: Incorporating AI into Planning and Development (Delve)

Delve is an AI tool from Sidewalk Labs that aims to help urban planners and developers alike make smarter, more informed decisions into neighborhood design. One of the biggest issues for developments of a multi-building scope is that there are a myriad of design, financial, and social decisions to make in the development of neighborhoods, and there is much time spent in the development process determining how best to consider, prioritize, and incorporate these decisions for a multitude of stakeholders. Delve hopes to use machine learning to generate the best design using the prioritized inputs from users, planning inputs, and site constraints – which can be updated in minutes based on new feedback from stakeholders. A report is generated with each option that shows performance against each identified metric, and the tool can help developers find, for example, space for more dwelling units, and increase site daylight access.


Urban planning and real estate development affects a wide variety of city stakeholders, and using Delve would impact anyone from the neighborhood citizen to city as an entity.

Real Estate Developers:

In most cities, real estate owners/investors drive new urban development by building new residential, commercial, and mixed-used projects. While they are primarily motivated by financial return, developers are constricted in many ways by the planning approval process as well as local zoning constraints. Depending on where the land they purchased is located, developers are limited by what they can build and how much, as well as a planning process that usually involves some public/public entity input and approval for the development and its design. Using Delve could more easily incorporate any and all site constraints and stakeholder inputs, as well as model financial outcomes into the design.

Cities: Citizens of the Present and Future

Current and future municipal residents and commuters would also be affected by the use of this tool in building new neighborhoods and developments. The ability of cities to handle future population and economic growth is dependent on the amount of quality dwelling units and/or other commercial space available to occupy at the right price. Nearby community members would benefit by allowing more of their inputs to be incorporated into the design process, and the city as a whole would benefit from smarter density and community development decisions being used as its population grows and desires to attract the best businesses and talent.


Delve can be used by municipalities and private developers alike, and can also be used for projects currently underway as well as those yet to be imagined beyond the plot of land. The product has already been piloted in the real world in a mixed-use development near London, and was able to find space for more residential units without sacrificing access to daylight and open space. City planning departments should work with developers to use tools like Delve in order to add density, quality of life benefits, and incorporate local citizen input more effectively to optimize neighborhood design and allow them to serve the present and future community.



One thought on “Using AI to Design our Cities

  1. ijt2109

    This is a really interesting case study – thank you for sharing!

    Having worked in urban planning, I’ve come across a few other software companies that explore a similar concept behind the Delve tool – utilizing available AI technology to enhance the traditionally arduous development process. These include products from companies such as Esri (ArcGIS Urban Smart City Planning product) and UrbanFootprint ( However, the Sidewalk Labs product seems different in the way it looks to build community engagement around projects, as well as the advanced use of AI. I hope this tool is used to assist the public sector and is made affordable for government bodies, and not solely used to support decision-making by developers from the private sector.

    I read another article on the software that you may find interesting:


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