The way we use and view our cities is changing. No longer can systems and buildings be designed with no awareness of their ramifications; every single aspect must be sustainable and symbiotic.

Even today, many city dwellers pay little attention to the consequence of something as simple as throwing away a bottle of water. Little do they know that one bottle could travel thousands of miles before it reaches its destination, ending up joining tonnes of other unrecycled rubbish for an indefinite period of time.

But imagine a future where this immense rubbish heap didn’t exist, and the journey that our rubbish took was no longer out of sight and out of mind. Inhabitants would understand the ‘removal-chain’ as much as the ‘supply-chain’, and this could help change bad habits.

This idea was tested by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s SENSEable City Lab in 2009 with a project called TrashTrack, which sought to expose the challenges of waste management and sustainability to help make 100% recycling a reality. It used hundreds of small, smart, location-aware tags to track the journeys of different types of rubbish. The results were then revealed in a series of real-time computer visualisations.

The team have since focused on international waste flows, in particular related to e-waste. “With a small number of tags we have been able to detect suspicious shipments of non-working electronic devices from the US to Asia,” says Professor Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT SENSEseable City Laboratory. Results are not complete yet, but Ratti says the team plans to publish them soon.

This initiative is one of many that seek to challenge the way we use and design our cities. Global software company, Dassault Systèmes, is working on a 3D model that looks at all the systems that constitute a city and their relationships to one another. This includes infrastructure systems such as energy, water, traffic, healthcare, education communication and any other systems that affect human life. It also looks at the repercussions urban systems have on global resources, and therefore the effect of city life on the planet.

“If we want to have resourceful lifestyles within the urban settlements, we of course need to understand what the repercussions are for the entire planet,” says Ingeborg Rocker, associate professor at Harvard, and head of the GEOVIA 3DEXPERIENCity project at Dassault Systèmes.

Dassault Systèmes’ GEOVIA 3DEXPERIENCity creates holistic models of cities to connect them with the rest of the planet. It will allow users to explore solutions to the challenges of quickly rising populations in order to harmonise products, nature and life. Dassault Systèmes, the world’s leading 3DEXPERIENCE company, provides business and people with virtual universes to imagine sustainable innovations.