Human mobility and city planning

In recent years cities have been instrumented with more and more technology, culminating even with the emergence of new terms such as Smart Cities or Digital Cities, for example.

However, at the level of human mobility it seems that the direction is precisely the opposite. Traffic congestions with a greater impact or an unsatisfactory supply of public transport to the needs of the inhabitants are just two examples of the current difficulty of mobility within and between urban spaces, which, due to their recurrent nature, influence the quality of life of individuals.


Traffic congestions with a greater impact or an unsatisfactory supply of public transport to the needs of the inhabitants are just two examples of the current difficulty of mobility within and between urban spaces…

On the other hand, with the increase in installed technology (with the potential to be used as a mobility sensor) or through the constant increase of the digital footprint that each individual produces in their interaction with the surrounding environment, it would be expected that the path was in the sense of the Smart Cities to be able to understand the mobility needs of its inhabitants and, in that sense, to adjust in the best way to meet the same needs.

The results obtained by Marta González [1] related to the nature of human mobility (in particular in regard to the existence of patterns in human trajectories) have fostered the emergence of several works centered on the analysis of human mobility based on physical sensors and / or which, that to a greater or lesser extent, allow the creation of individual and global maps of mobility.

In this way, Information Technologies and Systems are an added value for the understanding of human mobility and are, and could become even more, a relevant support tool for the planning of our cities, particularly at the mobility level. This idea is already late, as early as 1995 Louis Alfeld [2] considered that the observation of urban dynamics should help decision-makers or cities planners and planners of other urban spaces.

But if on the one hand we have the technology at our disposal and, on the other hand, there are examples of the use of information for the characterization of human mobility in urban spaces, the question that arises is:


Why are we not making the most of these resources in a better planning of our cities?


In this sense, it is important to create an ecosystem of urban mobility [3] with different stakeholders and to foster the paradigm shift as to the correct planning of mobility. This change is not so technological, since technology exists and is even in some cases disseminated by cities, but rather a change in the way urban planning is done.

This change is undoubtedly important, since the cost of creating or modifying infrastructures within an urban space normally has a large financial impact, so investment is justified only if it is an asset for the citizens and for space itself.

Thus, the urban mobility ecosystem would be constituted by a set of entities and minimum interactions to ensure, on the one hand, the continuous observation of the urban space, and on the other, the adequate performance according to the latest available information.




The urban space and the individuals that interact with it are in the origin of phenomena associated with human mobility that must be observed; its Observation through the most varied sensors produces a more or less extensive set of Data; which, in turn, are the basis of the Analysis that is intended to be carried out; individual and global Maps of human mobility will be produced as a result of the analysis, with recommendations or concerns regarding identified constraints / anomalies; these recommendations should affect an adequate Planning and a set of actions to be carried out; it is based on these results that the Performance on the urban space is realized.

This process is consecutively repeated since, after interventions in urban space, it is quite natural for behavior to be altered and, as such, it must now be identified. It is also natural that, over time and due to the dynamics existing in urban spaces, it is necessary to measure the current state of human mobility with some periodicity.

The application of an architecture equal to or close to the one presented previously is of great relevance in the planning of urban spaces, since it closes a cycle beginning with observation, passing through the decision and culminating in the performance.


What has been common practice is to decide and intervene without the necessary information for the correct decision making, often deciding even without knowing the real needs of both the city and its inhabitants.



At this moment we are facing a scenario with all the conditions for the change to occur. The first step in the realization of this reality is to bring together, in the same effort, the actors from different technological areas to jointly identify the most relevant problems and ways of minimizing them.

The creation of multidisciplinary teams that jointly discuss and change human mobility in a planned way is the basis for making our cities even more intelligent.


[1] M. C. González, C. a Hidalgo, and A.-L. Barabási, “Understanding individual human mobility patterns” Nature, vol. 453, no. 7196, pp. 779–82, Jun. 2008.

[2] L. E. Alfeld, “Urban dynamics-The first fifty years” Syst. Dyn. Rev., vol. 11, pp. 199–217, 1995.

[3] Tese de doutoramento em Tecnologias e Sistemas de Informação, submetida em Outubro de 2016 na Universidade do Minho, sob orientação do Professor Adriano Moreira (UM) e do Professor Carlos Bento (UC).


João Peixoto | Project manager @CCG

João Peixoto has a degree in Informatics Engineering, a Master’s degree in Informatics and Systems, and as a student of PDTSI at the University of Minho, he submitted the thesis “From Observation to Trajectory: formalization of a spatio-temporal information structure”. He is a project manager at CCG: Centro de Computação Gráfica at D.I.A UMC and researcher at the Algoritmi Center at the University of Minho. His research interests center on human mobility, urban computing, mobile computing, and sensorised information.