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UrbanFootprint Announces $11.5M in New Funding for Expansion

From climate change to housing affordability, water use and evolving transportation infrastructure, the company is staring down a barrel at looming global challenges it hopes to answer with data and AI.

An aerial view of Savannah, Ga.
An aerial view of Savannah, Ga.
Anticipating the need for both private- and public-sector urban developers to plan for large-scale challenges in the near future, the California-based UrbanFootprint has raised $11.5 million in investment capital.

The company, which was established in 2014 and launched its eponymous platform in spring 2018, announced the Series A funding in a news release this week.

UrbanFootprint bills itself as “the ultimate tool to understand cities,” a suite of software modules that compile data about people, zoning laws, environmental conditions and infrastructure, then apply AI to produce insights developers can use to make decisions. The idea behind UrbanFootprint, as described in the news release, is to help businesses plan their expansions, governments decide where to devote resources, and for both to understand what kind of economic, social and environmental impacts their projects will have.

Co-founder and CEO Joe DiStefano said the funding will go toward improving the platform in four key areas:

  1. Transportation: UrbanFootprint can analyze the existing conditions of a transportation network, but the company is developing a way to analyze hypotheticals. For example, what would be the impacts to traffic, the environment and the power grid if a city or micromobility provider added a new transit hub to a particular neighborhood?
  2. Master planning and urban design: The company intends to scale the product to a finer degree of detail than parcel-level, incorporating more detailed master plans and the ability to construct hypotheticals about distributing parcel uses across a map.
  3. AI: DiStefano said the company is hiring field experts to boost the accuracy, breadth and depth of their core data offerings.
  4. Energy and mobility: DiStefano said Pacific Gas & Electric just started using UrbanFootprint to analyze fire risk and the impacts of heat waves on their infrastructure, and that will be an area of interest for the company moving forward.
PG&E’s Climate Resilience Chief Heather Rock said in a statement that her team is using UrbanFootprint to build a more resilient power system.

“We are using forward-looking climate data to better inform how we plan and protect our infrastructure, employees, customers and communities,” the statement said. “UrbanFootprint is an important partner to us as we seek data and tools that allow us to assess and mitigate these risks in a thoughtful way.”

Describing the imminent need for data-driven urban planning, DiStefano mentioned looming issues like climate change, housing affordability, water use and evolving transportation infrastructure. He said energy companies will be key players in climate change, and it’s not enough to merely assess, for instance, which substations might fail if a heat wave prompts everyone to turn on their air conditioners. Which stations are powering the most vulnerable populations whose lives would be at risk in a failure?

DiStefano pointed out that as renewable energies become more widely used, cities will also need to know where and how to deploy electric vehicle infrastructure. And if urbanization continues as expected — a United Nations report in 2018 projected that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050 — affordable housing development will only grow more urget.

“Being able to inform, at scale, where and how there are opportunities for housing, and what the impacts of placing housing in one place or another are — that’s huge,” DiStefano said. “And how do we build resilient from the get-go, as opposed to simply adapt to (problems as they arise)? … We need to do our best not to place additional population and jobs at risk. Adding real clarity to that conversation is something we can help with.”

DiStefano said government planners will be important parts of that conversation, but about 60 percent of UrbanFootprint’s customers are private-sector planners, architects and developers who work with government, and those will be just as critical.

“If we can impact the way that the PG&Es, the mobility companies and the real-estate sector behave within urban environments, that will have an outsized impact on the ultimate sustainability and quality of life within those environments,” he said.

UrbanFootprint’s lead investor for this funding round was California-based Valo Ventures, with other funding from prior investor Social Capital and a new partner, Radicle Impact.

Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.