How Cities Should Invest for Future Economic & Environmental Vitality

How Cities Should Invest for Future Economic & Environmental Vitality.

What strategies can cities adopt to plan, build and maintain themselves as centers of innovation and economic growth? Kaushik Bagchi, Director Architecture Engineering and Construction at Autodesk opines

Cities are the driving force behind the global economy – according to McKinsey, just 600 cities are responsible for 60% of the global GDP – and the number of people living in cities is expected to increase from 3.6 billion in 2010 to 6.3 billion in 2050.

Design Trends for Future Cities

Before discussing investment strategies, it’s worth considering why cities have been growing for the last 5,000 years. In short, it’s because they have proven to be an incredibly durable and productive economic model. The shift to urban living is helping to increase the incomes and purchasing power for millions around the world.

Infrastructure plays a critical role in a city’s success, providing the energy, water, transportation, waste management and access to food and manufactured goods. Vital to a city’s well-being, infrastructure supports more than basic needs; it encourages the ability to interact, communicate with ease and share ideas – the fundamental basics of innovation and future economic growth.

Today people move to cities for many reasons, including access to jobs, schools, services and culture. What will the city of the future look like? Quality of life is likely to be even more important in years to come, and factors like sustainability, resiliency, energy-efficiency, quality housing and schools, safety and even happiness will be requirements. Cities will be adaptive, collaborative, walkable, and everyone will have access to public services and public transportation.

Design trends point to more greenery for buildings, with rooftop gardens and vertical farming. Urban planning is moving toward mixed-use zoning that will provide office and shared space ideal for collaboration. Social and entrepreneurial connectivity is becoming ubiquitous, supporting a rise in mobility and self-employment.  A thriving city has ease of movement and adaptable transportation making it possible move people from one point to another quickly and with minimal energy. Cities are championing ‘access through proximity’ over ‘access through mobility’ as a way of reaping huge economic and environmental benefits; including higher tax revenues, healthier residents, better use of existing infrastructure, and reduced demand for fossil fuels.

4 Infrastructure Investments for Urban Vitality

In reality, the city of the future like depends on the decisions we make today. How dollars are prioritized for infrastructure investment is a reflection of a community’s social, economic and environmental values. The question for city planners is how to foster economic activity in a way that maximizes benefits to the community.

Technology can help cities to investigate how different design options can contribute to a more sustainable city, with an economic advantage, and a better quality of life. To achieve these goals, four key areas for technology-aided infrastructure investment are:

Buildings: Buildings constructed decades ago will still be standing because they are made of steel, but with contemporary advances in computing power it is now possible to rapidly evaluate the building systems and prioritize energy-efficient retrofits for the greatest impact.

Water: Adding parks and green corridors in cities can help with storm water management, reduce maintenance costs for ground-level and below-ground infrastructure, and create a healthier, better looking environment. Sensors in the pipes can track usage and more importantly leakage so it can be quickly corrected. Coastal cities in particular need to deliver resiliency strategies in light of rising sea levels, increasing storms, earthquakes or just the weight of increasing urbanization pressure. Simulation enabled through powerful cloud computing is helping planners and designers to explore innovative and less costly alternatives and viewing those approaches into the future through time based simulation.

Transportation: Transportation authorities are also taking advantage of virtually infinite computing and modern design tools to quickly explore a number of transit options to reduce travel time and congestion and decrease carbon emissions, as well as encouraging the aforementioned “access through proximity” as a development strategy.

Energy: Aside from reduced greenhouse gas emissions and more stable energy costs, generation within the city from renewable sources such as solar and wind can also reduce dependency on imported energy, and help improve urban resiliency in the face of fluctuating commodity prices and natural disasters.

Big Data, Technology and People

It is people, however, not technology, that makes a city. An informed public will be critical to any approvals for proposed new or rehabilitation projects to improve a city’s economic competitiveness. Today’s technology supports big data; cities and commercial firms can use data to create and present proposals for new designs shown within their existing surroundings or conduct analyses for population growth, weather impact and many other factors. Allowing people to plug in to the data can help facilitate communications and smooth the approvals process.

The biggest challenge is defining what we want our future to be; only with clear objectives can we achieve our goals. Information matters because when it comes time to rationalize spending finite resources, we need to be able to do this on social and environmental – as well as economic – factors.

Advanced technology for simulation, visualization and analysis is already in wide use today in the manufacturing sector and is growing rapidly in the infrastructure and construction industry to better understand projects. These tools use intelligent 3D models to quickly evaluate multiple design options and help predict the physical and functional performance of the finished project under a variety of conditions. Known as BIM (Building Information Modeling) by planners, engineers, architects, contractors and owners, the process is also valuable in helping achieve significant productivity improvements.

With the rise of big data and the availability of advanced modeling technology, it is now possible to plan and prioritize investments in urban development with greater foresight, better communicate the potential outcomes, and yield measurably better results. More importantly, this technology, along with social and mobile platforms, now provides a means to engage all stakeholders – from citizens to professionals – earlier and throughout the process in a way that is easily understood.

Ultimately, it’s those people who live and work in cities who matter.  Big data and simulation technology can help people design and make the infrastructure investments their cities need for a future of renewed economic and environmental vitality.


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