Portland, IBM team up to solve carbon issues

Portland, Oregon is getting a little help from computer giant IBM to help see how it can reach various city goals, including reducing its carbon emissions over the next several decades.

The City of Portland and IBM have collaborated to develop a computer model that simulates how city systems work together. That knowledge will then be used to make a road map for the city for the next 25 years.

Coined the System Dynamics for Smarter Cities model, the paradigm give mayors and other city officials ways to measure positive and negative consequences of various actions. 

The model can be used to look at a variety of factors from the city’s core sectors, including, the economy, housing, education, public safety, healthcare, transportation and utilities.

One example that was put to the model is the city’s objective of reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and by 80 percent by the year 2050. 

Using the model, it was discovered that in addition to reducing levels of emissions by providing more public transportation options and options for walking and biking to work, that obesity levels in the general population also might decline. 

And if obesity levels go down, the use of walking, biking and public transportation go up. The tool highlights the feedback loop used to jump start a continued cycle of improvement. So if shifting to walking and biking reduces driving trips, the obesity/active transport loop could be a self reinforcing policy lever to address carbon goals.

The project began in 2010 and included sessions with more than 75 Portland-area experts in a variety of fields. That research, along with 10 years of historical data, was used to support the model. The work on the model is assisting the city in identifying drivers of change to be incorporated into the city’s 25-year strategic plan.

Kristy Hessman, EarthTechling