New Urban Planning Simulator Offers a Hands-On Opportunity for Learners to Apply Their Skills

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Digital transformation is a top issue for urban centers worldwide as leaders and planners explore new opportunities to leverage the power of technology to advance everything from efficiency to safety. 

The Digital Transformation of Megapolises: From Zero to #1 in UN Digital e-Government Ranking course from HSE University explores the concept of the “smart city” and introduces different approaches to transformation management. In this course, you can review real-world use cases, make determinations about the potential of digital transformation for your city, and even get practical guidance on how to secure funding for new digital projects. 

Instructors Artem Ermolaev and Andrey Belozerov have now introduced an innovative new urban planning simulator to the course so that learners can get hands-on experience implementing digitalization strategies, planning urban infrastructure, and running a city. The new simulator, known as “SMART CITY,” is based on the real-world experience of the instructors, who were responsible for the digitalization of Moscow from 2011 to 2018. 

Below, we talk to Artem and Andrey, as well as SMART CITY co-creator Anatoly Kazakov, about smart cities, digital transformation, and how their new simulator enhances the learning experience in their course.

Thank you so much for sharing your insights with your community! Let’s get started by talking at a high level about cities and technology. How do you see technology impacting the development of urban communities, and do you foresee any tensions arising from that impact?

Andrey Belozerov:

An urban community is made up of neighbors with common interests and values. The synergy of local residents, businesses, and authorities form strong social institutions, which can change the urban environment beyond recognition. Technology can play a key role in helping city residents better form connections with one another and enhance the urban living experience for everyone involved. The SMART CITY concept encourages the exploration of new models of behavior, ways of decision-making, and communication among inhabitants. The digitalization of the information space of cities—and the discussion of important topics in popular media—can enable faster consensus between comparatively more conservative residents and the frontrunners of contemporary urbanism.

Let’s now talk about smart cities in particular. What kind of real-world impact can technology have on the functioning of a city, and how do inhabitants benefit?

Artem Ermolaev: 

Any city, regardless of its size, should, first of all, be comfortable for the people living there. Modern trends and technology provide city leaders with new tools for improving the quality of life for city residents. For instance, when IoT sensors and systems are more actively integrated into urban spaces, residents experience improvements in everything from public transportation and trash collection to communication. At its core, smart urban planning is about the implementation of technology to improve quality of life, as well as efforts to enhance the efficiency of resources and territory use.

This kind of digital transformation is obviously a big undertaking. Can you tell us about how your new SMART CITY simulator makes it possible for learners to get the necessary skills and experience to take on these kinds of projects?

Andrey Belozerov:

The SMART CITY game simulator is a big step forward in the development of immersive tools for e-learning. With SMART CITY, each user can select a specific area of urban life and develop it. We’ve designed it so that learners can start to use it as early as the first week of the course. We did this specifically so that learners can evaluate their progress in real time. All cities are unique in their own way. By using the SMART CITY simulator, a student can select one of three cities with varying growth points, histories, and natural features to further develop.

Anatoly Kazakov:

One of the simulator’s tasks is to simulate a team’s operations. For example, you can hire people, choose them according to different parameters, and decide whether to develop your own specialist from scratch or outsource to a more expensive professional. We designed this simulation game so that learners have an interactive opportunity to try their hand at “governing” digitally.

Andrey Belozerov:

The simulator is designed to help learners memorize and apply the material they’ve learned in the course. There’s an opportunity to see how certain decision-making mechanics work in practice in a city. At the same time, if a learner misses something while taking the course, the game can nudge them to dig deeper into the course materials and consider new approaches. 

So it really is about hands-on learning! It sounds like SMART CITY offers a great way to test out different strategies, learn what does and doesn’t work, and start to refine new approaches.

Andrey Belozerov:

That’s right. The simulator provides learners with a virtual space to practice applying their new knowledge and skills even before they enter the workforce. With this practical and hands-on learning opportunity, learners also have the chance to spot weaknesses in their strategy and pivot and grow accordingly. While the interface doesn’t literally transform a learner into a mayor, it is possible to understand the mechanics of making strategic leadership decisions and assess their consequences in socio-economic terms. The simulator specifies what’s impossible in real life. It allows you to assess the impact of these decisions on the life of the city in real time, simply by going back and forth in a given timeframe. It makes it possible to “play around” with certain conditions and decisions while using the simulator.

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We want to thank Artem Ermolaev, Andrey Belozerov, and Anatoly Kazakov for speaking with us today, and we encourage everyone to check out the course. Start thinking about how you might change the world through smart urban planning and digital transformation!

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Andrey Belozerov is a lifelong technology executive with deep expertise in delivering innovations in both governmental and commercial sectors, ICT and SmartCity Business angel and mentor of digital projects, Founder of the investment club “Digital Disrupt”, and a United Nations Development Program expert. Andrey was responsible for developing and implementing smart solutions in Moscow as a Deputy Minister of IT in the Moscow Government. Public city Wi-Fi, a citizen engagement platform, a system of online public services, and mobile apps for Moscow residents, are just some of the successful projects implemented in Moscow under his guidance. 

Artem Ermolaev joined the Ministry of Communications and Media of the Russian Federation in 2008, where he became Director of the National IT Policy Department and then the Advisor to the Minister. In 2010, he was offered the post of Chairman of the Moscow IT Committee. In 2011, Artem headed the newly established IT Department as the Minister of IT of the Moscow Government. Artem coordinated building the ICT infrastructure for e-health, e-education, public services delivery, and citizen engagement projects. Artem is a business angel and mentor of digital projects, and co-founder of the investment club “Digital Disrupt.”

Anatoly Kazakov is a developer of educational games for the Agency for Strategic Initiatives, The Vladimir Potanin Foundation, and the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs. He is also a member of the International Simulation and Gaming Association, and the curator of Game Design and Virtual Reality at the HSE Art and Design school.

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