03-05 March 2020 / ExCeL, London
Tue & Wed 10:00 – 18:00, Thu 10:00 – 16:00

The Urban Challenge: Cities for the Future

28 Jan 2019

The Urban Challenge: Cities for the Future

Professor Peter Madden OBE, Cardiff University

Most of us either live in, work in, or visit cities regularly. They are engines of growth, and by 2050 more and more people will be living in cities - particularly in Asia. Since 1980 the equivalent to the combined populations of the USA, Britain, France, Germany and Italy have left the farms of China’s countryside for an urban future.

Cities in the UK and right across the world are facing increasing challenges that need to be addressed: from how people move around, to where they are going to live, to whether they can breathe clean air.

Innovation and new technology will have a vital part to play in creating the liveable cities of the future. Because the demands on infrastructure and services are often out-stripping the ability to provide and pay for them, smart solutions are required. That will mean applying digital technology to use the infrastructure and facilities we already have more efficiently and to deliver better for citizens.

This digital technology is becoming ever more pervasive. For example, there are more mobile phones in the world than there are toilets. These technologies, and the data they provide, can help companies and city administrations understand how people move around and interact with cities, and how well services are functioning. Big data can help city planners design things better, and they can help citizens use what’s available more effectively. Many of us already use apps to help us navigate our cities and make better use of the public transport system. 

Applying these new digital solutions to solve city problems is a big opportunity for business. The global markets for city infrastructure and services are many trillions of dollars. As well as doing good business, companies can also help to deliver for the greater good, making cities more liveable, equitable and sustainable.

Companies will play a part in developing products and services that enhance urban resilience and meet the needs of all citizens. City governments also need to play an active role in using, shaping and sharing these technologies. Local authorities face financial difficulties and are having to make big cuts, but they still spend a lot of money, and have many tools to shape their metropolitan areas. City administrations can use their procurement power to stimulate demand for the sustainable solutions; they can use their outreach to make their citizens smarter and enable wider participation; and they can use their convening power to bring different sectors together to create better places. 

Rather than being disrupted and dislocated by the wave of digital innovation, city leaders should be harnessing the opportunity. By investing in digital capability, providing connectivity, and thinking of their city as a platform, they can leverage their physical assets, engage citizens as co-creators and be in better shape to face the urban challenges ahead.

Creating these enlightened cities will be the focus of The Urban Challenge session on day two of the ecobuild conference (06 March 2019) at Futurebuild. You can join the debate around how to create liveable and resilient urban environments by registering for the event here.

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