Creating liveable cities of the future

Wed, 08 Dec, 2021

The world is heading towards massive urbanisation — a development that has serious implications on the quality of life for everyone. By 2050, just a few decades from now, 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities, according to the United Nations.

Migration to urban areas is exploding, with half of the world’s 7.4 billion people already living in cities, a figure that could increase by about 3 billion in the next thirty years. Imagine 150 cities the size of Beijing and Mumbai, for example, popping up on the planet. This can complicate the management of cities and people, as well as cause a dearth of resources.

To address the issue, some cities are offering incentives for people to move back to rural areas with relocation grants and tax breaks, as in the case of Ireland. However, a more systematic and sustainable solution requires a smarter response to this impending crisis.

Smart living

Building smart cities has, for some time now, been the trend among governments, in partnership with private developers and companies, to enhance city living. New ideas are being developed to change the way cities and people are managed, while also enhancing the quality of life in general.

These initiatives are meant to introduce technology into the fabric of urbanisation, not just for the sake of convenience and efficiency, but also for the optimum use of resources and distribution of benefits. Over the long term, smart cities can also save governments huge amounts of money.

Some have become successful, reaping the benefits of integrating technology within and through a city’s development.

A perfect example of this is Songdo City in South Korea. Located just outside of the capital Seoul, the Songdo International Business District, which was completely built from scratch, turned more than 20 million square feet of LEED-certified space into a smart and sustainable city that has helped mitigate the scourge of modern living with the use of sensors to monitor energy use, for instance. This example illustrates how a visionary masterplan, when executed properly, can pave the way for growth and development.

Serving the purpose

Apart from smart planning, another important consideration for future developers is that a smart city must have a purpose. The Line — a city within the Neom mega development in Saudi Arabia — will have no cars and have zero carbon emissions. It will also wonderfully preserve 95 per cent of its natural resources. This impressive development is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which is a key pillar of its economic diversification initiatives seeking to contribute 380,000 jobs to the kingdom’s workforce and SAR180 billion (USD48 billion) to its domestic GDP by 2030. It has clearly identified its purpose as a community for people living in harmony with nature. This central feature, backed by technology, is the basis on which the whole development is designed.

For smart cities to thrive, smart infrastructure is critical. Incorporating technology and mobility, along with environmental and economic considerations, and seamlessly connecting all these components, is no easy feat and requires much forethought and agility. Managing Big Data — a field that treats ways to analyse, systematically extract information from, or otherwise deal with data sets that are too large or complex to be deal with by traditional data-processing application software — is key as smart city developments are not just about building digital interfaces, but about using technology properly and purposefully to ensure that the right decisions are made.

Open book

Beyond issues related to development, a smart city needs to be, first and foremost, transparent. Vietnam’s Phú Mỹ Hưng — a planned city located in District 7, south of Ho Chi Minh City — is a prime example. City planners worked within legal framework at the national and municipal levels to ensure complete transparency in transactions, given the huge sums of investment involved and the commitment to fast-track the development of the project. Transparency can also help avoid disputes, which can be a nuisance and costly. With the growing adoption of blockchain technologies, future smart city planners can use the platform to ensure better transparency.

The next few years will be critical, as we are trying to cope with decades of a massive urbanisation implosion. Governmental authorities, along with business leaders and civil society, must look at the crisis with a greater sense of urgency and as an opportunity to make our future liveable and sustainable, one where we are able to successfully manage pollution and poverty, among other ills of society, creating a future centred on healthy and prosperous living for all citizens.