It has been estimated that by 2050 there could be as many as six billion people living in urban city centres which may well result in increased resource consumption and more emissions.
In terms of energy, the EU has reported that cities presently consume over 65% of the world’s power supply and contribute over 70% towards global CO2 emissions. This means that and design strategies aimed at mitigating, and adapting to climate change must factor in cities and all the environmental, social and economic challenges they represent, along with their potential to become more sustainable, afford better standards of living for residents and contribute to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Investment in projects to advance and accelerate the implementation of measures to make cities smarter, more sustainable and more resilient against climate change is crucial, especially in this age of transition. This article will focus on three approaches indispensable to the development of smart city projects but that are not always valued or adequately secured: the importance of a holistic, systemic approach; real knowledge of regions and cities; and people engagement.
The challenges cities face cut across environmental, social, and economic domains, touching on diverse areas of knowledge within each of these domains. Looking at the environmental aspect for example, there is a need to work with sustainable mobility, natural capital, circular economics, energy efficiency for buildings, water efficiency, low-carbon economies, and digital technologies. Tackling these challenges requires a holistic vision supported by systemic analysis. Consider sustainable construction, which forms a part of urban construction, architecture, civil engineering, zoning, the use of digital technologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), or Digital Twins; energy and water efficiency, circular economy and greenhouse gas emissions (GGE); then add the need to create available, decent dwellings at prices that residents in those cities can afford. Contributions from all areas and an analysis of their interconnections will ensure it is possible to better determine the realities in place but also achieve outcomes that represent lasting, long-term benefits.
And then, there’s a need to gather accurate knowledge on the real needs in each given region, and city, and the needs of the people who live there. That is an inherent part of this approach. Whilst developing plans and projects it is essential to ensure the necessary resources (human and of schedule)are available on the ground to visit the area, , establish contact with local communities and identify their key expectations and concerns, be aware of relevant projects developed on-site and their outcomes, and assess the potential for continuity. This knowledge is essential to successful scalability of measures and outcomes for pilot projects on smart cities and to adapting as needed to the specifics of each region and city, especially when looking to transfer experiences from more developed, complex urban hubs to smaller, less densely populated cities.
Getting the local community involved will benefit every aspect of the work and is key to the success of any smart, sustainable city project. If they are not adequately engaged from the start, the best measures and most carefully laid-out plans may not come to fruition. Engagement has to be designed around the residents’ culture and specifics — and to do that you need knowledge of the realities on the ground. Participating in getting to know and understand projects and measures and the motives behind them are fundamental to this engagement.