Planning for Tomorrow: Artificial Intelligence in Planning
Updated: Nov 20
The development and free availability of generative AI tools such as Google Bard and Chat GPT have sparked significant interest across a range of industries. As town planners, how can we maximise the benefits of these tools, and what is our responsibility in minimising the risks? Will our jobs be replaced with AI, or is it possible that we could use AI to transform town planning? In this blog series on ‘AI in planning’, we explore the benefits, risks, and applications of AI in our practice, and find out how we can harness AI to create more sustainable and equitable towns and cities.
In the first of our posts on AI in planning, we interview our special guest, Google Bard. Google Bard is a conversational AI chatbot developed by Google AI. According to Google Bard, it is still under development and has limitations, but it ‘has the potential to be a powerful tool for everyone’.
Hi Google Bard! According to your website, you have ‘the potential to be a powerful tool for everyone’. How might you be a powerful tool for town planners?
Google Bard has the potential to be a powerful tool for planners in a number of ways.
Data analysis: Google Bard can be used to analyse large amounts of data on traffic patterns, population density, land use, and other factors to identify trends, patterns and opportunities. This information can then be used to inform planning decisions.
Scenario planning: Google Bard can be used to create and evaluate different scenarios for future development. This can help planners to identify the best way to achieve desired outcomes, such as reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality, or increasing access to affordable housing.
Risk assessment: Google Bard can be used to assess and mitigate risks associated with development, such as environmental hazards, market volatility or legal complications.
Public engagement: Google Bard can be used to engage the public in the planning process in more meaningful ways. For example, AI-powered chatbots can be used to answer questions, provide feedback, and collect public opinion on planning proposals.
Wow! Thanks Google Bard. That sounds impressive. Should we be concerned that AI may take the roles of existing specialists who carry out these tasks?
Whether or not we should be concerned about AI taking the roles of existing specialists who carry out these tasks is a complex question. On the one hand, AI does have the potential to automate many of the tasks that are currently performed by human specialists. This could lead to job losses.
On the other hand, AI is also creating new jobs and opportunities. For example, there is a growing demand for people who can develop and maintain AI systems. Additionally, AI can be used to augment the capabilities of human specialists, making them more productive and effective.
Ultimately, the impact of AI on the job market will depend on how the technology is developed and used. Here are some things that we can do to mitigate the negative impacts of AI on the job market:
Invest in education and training to help workers develop the skills they need to succeed in the AI-powered economy.
Create a social safety net to support workers who are displaced by AI.
Develop policies that ensure that the benefits of AI are shared broadly.
Overall, we should be cautious but not afraid of AI. AI has the potential to improve our lives in many ways, but it is important to use it responsibly and ethically.
We get the impression that AI is still in its infancy, but there are many examples of where AI is already used in planning practice. Could you share some of these?
Sure. Here are some examples of where AI is already used in planning in the UK:
The Greater London Authority (GLA) is using AI to develop a new planning framework for London. The GLA is using AI to analyse data on transportation, housing, and other factors to identify areas of need and develop strategies to address them.
The city of Manchester is using AI to improve its public transport system. Manchester is using AI to predict passenger demand and optimise bus schedules. This has helped to reduce congestion and improve travel times for residents.
The town of Milton Keynes is using AI to develop a new smart city plan. Milton Keynes is using AI to design a new town centre that is more sustainable and liveable. The plan includes features such as self-driving cars, green spaces, and affordable housing.
The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) is using AI to develop new tools and resources for planners. The RTPI is working with AI experts to develop new tools that can help planners to analyse data, generate scenarios, and assess risks.
Other examples of how AI is being used in planning in the UK include:
Using AI to identify and assess brownfield sites.
Using AI to model and predict the impact of development on traffic, air quality, and other environmental factors.
Using AI to develop and evaluate different planning policy options.
Using AI to engage the public in the planning process.
Some people are naturally very cautious of AI and perhaps even fearful. In areas such as education, AI has had a direct impact on students’ work and so it has been essential to consider policy around the use of AI in schools. We seem to have a somewhat more relaxed approach to the consideration of policies around the use of AI in planning. Who will ultimately be responsible for developing policies to regulate the use of AI in planning?
Ultimately, the responsibility for developing policies to regulate the use of AI in planning will lie with governments. However, it is important to involve a wide range of stakeholders in the development of these policies, including town planners, AI experts, businesses, and the public.
What is the specific role of town planners in the development of these policies?
Town planners have the expertise to understand the potential benefits and risks of using AI in planning. They can also provide input on how to develop policies that promote the responsible and ethical use of AI.
Can you provide some examples of specific policies that could be developed to regulate the use of AI in planning?
Policies to ensure that AI is used in a transparent and accountable way. For example, policies could require that town planners disclose how AI is being used in the planning process and provide opportunities for public input.
Policies to mitigate the risks of bias in AI systems. For example, policies could require that town planners test AI systems for bias and take steps to mitigate any identified biases.
Policies to ensure that AI is used in a way that is consistent with public values. For example, policies could require that town planners consider the ethical implications of using AI in planning and make sure that AI systems are used in a way that respects human rights and values.
I guess it’s going to be quite tricky for planners to contribute to these policies without first having a good understanding of AI and the tools that they could use in their work. Where might people who have no experience in AI begin, to start to incorporate the use of AI in their planning practice?
Here are some tips for people who have no experience in AI to start to incorporate the use of AI in their planning practice:
Learn about the basics of AI. There are many resources available online and in libraries that can teach you about the basics of AI, such as machine learning, deep learning, and natural language processing.
Identify opportunities to use AI in your work. Once you have a basic understanding of AI, start to identify opportunities to use it in your work. For example, you could use AI to analyse data, generate scenarios, or assess risks.
Start small. Don't try to implement a complex AI solution all at once. Start small and experiment with different AI tools and techniques.
It's inspiring to see the positive possibilities of AI. Thank you for sharing these insights with us today. As we wrap up, do you have any final thoughts to share about the future of AI in town planning?
The future of town planning with AI is incredibly promising. By embracing this technology responsibly, town planners can create more sustainable, equitable, and efficient cities. Collaboration between AI and human expertise can lead to innovative solutions that address the unique challenges of urbanisation. The key lies in leveraging AI as a tool to enhance our capabilities and create a better future for all.
Thank you for your valuable input. This has been an eye-opening discussion on the potential of AI in town planning. We look forward to witnessing the positive impact AI will continue to have.
The overarching message from our interview with Google Bard is that it’s important for planners to develop the skills needed to use AI in a responsible and effective way. We are cautiously optimistic about the application of AI in planning; cautious not least because one of the major challenges of AI can be bias. Does AI want us to learn more about AI for our benefit and for the benefit of our communities, or for its own?
Nevertheless, by learning more about the applications of AI, we will be better placed to develop robust policies that promote the ethical use of AI and ultimately be in a better position to create sustainable, liveable, and equitable towns and cities.
It will be interesting to see the Government’s actions around the development of ethical guidelines for the use of AI in town planning, particularly addressing issues such as data privacy, bias, and public trust. It will also be vital for the Government to provide funding for local authorities to adopt AI in town planning. We shall wait and see how this unfolds!
We would love to hear your comments: Have you used AI in your practice? Are you ready to embrace it or fearful of its implications?
Join us in the next of our ‘Planning for Tomorrow: AI in Planning’ blog series as we explore a range of AI tools you can use to maximise efficiency and optimise your outputs, from writing emails and surveys to creating images, voiceovers and videos.