Parametric Modeling for Planning in Uncertain Times

A new technology- and data-drive approach to planning could provide direction as society faces challenges of unprecedented scale.

2 minute read

November 10, 2020, 7:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Al Fresco Streets

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Jason King, associate and parametric design lead at IBI Group, writes about a technological innovation available to the planning profession that will allow informed responses to the novel crises of the COVID-19 pandemic: parametric modeling.

Here is how King describes parametric modeling, for the uninitiated:

The parametric modeling process — which can include the custom development of tools to assist the design of buildings, the planning of transit system and land use plans — enables the efficient use of large datasets and the correlation of variables to approach flexible planning. This unlocks many "what ifs" for a wide range of problems across multiple scales.

According to King, IBI Group is devoting much of its time and energy in developing parametric modeling to support cities responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and its related crises. The article also includes a case study of a parametric model used by the Los Angeles County healthcare system to anticipate operational challenges and also includes a section on holistic approach to data that cities must adopt to realize the potential of parametric modeling.

But before digging into those examples King describes the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it requires a different kind of planning:

Generally speaking, the planning process needs to look for lessons learned in the past to make informed decisions about the future. Depending on the nature of the planning, the timespan from "past to future" can be decades. In the case of COVID-19, however, we are learning about the virus in real time. We do not have decades or even years of precedents to formulate a response. Therefore, pandemic planning processes must be agile with the ability to incorporate continuous uncertainty and change.

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