What are the best strategies to transform our cities?
For every increase in connectivity, the world’s cities grow in size. A further 2.5 billion people are set to live in urban areas by 2050.
For cities to provide sustainable, long-term economic growth, for the benefit of all, the way they are designed, built and managed is being reimagined and transformed.
What are the best strategies to transform our cities? How can a city, with the authorities working in partnership with the private sector, compete on a global platform to attract business, talent and visitors?
We take a look at the growth of cities, especially the rise of the smart city, the importance of mobility and the need for social connection in cities.
Putting cities on the map
Much of the urban growth will be in the emerging world. China is creating hundreds of new cities, connected by what is the world’s largest high-speed rail network, while in Egypt the construction of a new green, smart capital, almost the size of Singapore, is underway 45km east of Cairo.
In more mature markets, cities are also reimagining their future. Paris, for example, with its La Métropole du Grand Paris initiative, is holding one of Europe’s biggest planning consultations. As an example of a secondary city, Birmingham in the UK is reinventing itself for a place on the world stage with the 1.8m sq ft (around 170,000 sq m) Paradise Birmingham development in the city centre.
More and more cities are taking responsibility for their future. They are joining and creating networks across the world, sharing ideas and policies, and comparing different systems, allowing them to come up with new ideas. A good example of such a network is the group of C40 cities – a network of over 90 megacities committed to addressing climate change
Smart cities are here to grow
Data and digital technology are key pillars in the transformation of urban areas into smart cities. They aid sustainable growth by creating greater efficiencies and optimising the use of resources.
A report by the McKinsey Global Institute, Smart cities: Digital solutions for a more liveable future, also finds that cities can use data and digital technology to improve certain key quality-of-life indicators by 10-30%.
These numbers, say the report, translate into “lives saved, fewer crime incidents, shorter commutes, a reduced health burden, and carbon emissions averted”. This is performed through a specific app that transfers raw data collected by a network of sensors into alerts or insights, or through a smartphone app used by local citizens, authorities or companies for a specific purpose, again using a network of sensors connected by high-speed communications networks.
Yes, there are still concerns about the vulnerability of the current smart technology to hackers – earlier this year, the state emergency agency in Hawaii issued a false missile alert, causing panic for a full 38 minutes – but this technology is here to stay, and to evolve.
Mobility is a key factor in creating a sustainable city, especially as city roads and public transport systems become increasingly congested and the air contaminated.
Headlines have focussed on autonomous vehicle technology, using electric power. The technology is advancing, but much will depend on the policies and regulations implemented by city authorities and national governments.
Part of the mobility issue is caused by the rising costs of housing in inner city areas, forcing local residents to move further out in their search for affordability, with a resulting longer commute.
To get people out of their private cars, Finland trialled ‘mobility as a service’, or MaaS, in partnership with Toyota in 2016. MaaS integrates public and private transport on demand, with one monthly payment through the Whim app. The app is now being trialled for the first time outside Finland, in the UK’s West Midlands region.
Social – the third connection
Together with digital and transport connection, a key factor for liveability and quality of life is social connection. Around one third of households in the European Union, for example, are now single households.
Cities are creating new spaces with social connection in mind. Sometimes referred to as the ‘third space’, with the first and second being home and workplace, these new spaces can be private or public, small or large, cultural centres, urban parks, or cafés and restaurants.
Examples include Stockholm-based Fotografiska’s new museums in London and New York, and the new CTF contemporary art museum in Hong Kong, as well as Manchester’s 6.5-acre new park to regenerate the Mayfield city centre district or the urban garden with cafés and restaurants at Frau Gerolds Garten in Zurich. These third spaces not only build social connections, but also create a sense of place.
Yes, our cities are being transformed to be sustainable and economically resilient; they also need to be attractive to people. Essentially, cities are about people – where they meet, where they go. This is what makes a city.
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