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CIM: The New Approach in City Planning

CIM: The New Approach in City Planning

People are now moving from rural areas to cities at the highest rate ever in history. Cities are key enablers of economic development and productivity. They have also become essential for individuals’ social and political well-being, with most people identifying with some parts of the city where they regard it as ‘home’.

This development has come with a lot of challenges that are likely to inhibit economic growth, social justice, environmental justice as well as equality. An issue like traffic congestion has become a worldwide concern, costing many economies billions of money each fiscal year. Poor housing conditions for the urban poor has led to development of ghettos, and the squalid conditions in these settlements have led to increased need for health services.

Smart City Solution

The concept of smart city is a reaction to the increasing challenges of urbanization. The concept attempts to address issues such as environmental pollution, rise in economic inequalities, overstrain and exhaustion of physical and social infrastructure and much more.

The smart city concept has an aim of improving the service, operational and energy efficiency of the cities, hence rendering them better homes for all to live in.

Beyond BIM to CIM

Building Information Modelling (BIM) and the smart city concept are intertwined. When used as a ‘tool’ for smart city, we can refer it as City Information Modelling (CIM). CIM goes beyond BIM by having a ‘whole city’ approach by using intelligent modelling to digitize a city’s plan and design information. In this way CIM is opening opportunities of linking urban planning to urban design using BIM.

What is CIM?

From various expert definitions, City Information Model describes a fully integrated, semantically enabled ‘super BIM’ 3D model of a city that connects users to all contextual project data sources and analysis tools (whether static or dynamic, spatial or non-spatial), from roads, to buildings, to social amenities, to streetlights (including sensors and IOT), to people on streets.

Users of CIM

CIM models can be used by planners as well as architects for visualizing single building project, campus project, and urban projects of any scale. CIM enables users to drag and drop their BIM models of various projects into the content-rich and interactive 3D city model environment. This can be done in a web browser, and the users can find relevant data to their projects, run any relevant analysis, and collaborate with all team members around the world in real time.

Benefits of CIM

CIM offers new and enhanced opportunities for planners and other professionals working in the urban environment.  The main opportunity is the deployment of real-time data into analysis of various conditions in which key planning and resource allocation decisions are made as well as appreciation of the longer term impact of such decisions. (Thompson, et al, Urban Planning, 2016)

CIM models are the next step towards development of digital DNA for cities, or what is referred to as ‘digital twin’. They can be applied in simulation of traffic flow, energy provision and usage, congestion, impacts of natural disasters (such as floods, earthquakes and hurricanes), smart grids and much more.

Data Driven-Design Platform

True CIM models are the holy grails of contextual information on projects as well as tools for analysis of the same projects for planners and architects. Users of CIM get many benefits that include:

  • Immediate access to numerous terabytes of data content concerning a project that include many analytic tools, 3D city models, public as well as commercial data services.
  • Cost saving due to reduction of time spent in research, team communication and design
  • Eliminate expenditure on legacy software tools and online services.


No matter what policies governments of the day are deploying now as regards to urban planning and development, digitization of cities as well as their services is the core of the smart city concept. As we move to the future, this digitization will rely a lot on BIM and CIM. CIM will be enabled at a great length by BIM technologies to realize smart cities. This will help the acceleration of connectivity and smart planning that will lead to emergence of much more sustainable, livable and interconnected cities.