The future of cities matter

The future of our cities and the complex supporting systems of infrastructure is the hot topic of 2016. As the global population continues to grow and reach 50% of the global total population, this upward trend shows no sign of changing and the built infrastructure of our cities is struggling to cope. 

The debate on cities can no longer focus on whether urbanisation will be an issue, the evidence is clear. In almost everyone country across the world there has been an upward trend towards urbanisation, and the UK is no different. It’s time to get real about the issues and to move to a debate about how best to manage a new urban future, and how we do this in a sustainable and equitable fashion. 

Engineers and built environment professionals operating in this complex and challenging context are constantly working to adapt urban environments to changing demographics, changing environments and aging assets, while at the same time finding solutions to design and manage cities that mitigate environmental damage, resource depletion and social inequality. 

‘Cities – Adaptation without mitigation is immoral’ was the topic of our inaugural CIRIA debate, held on 15th June in London.  Our incredibly talented and inspiring panel debated the growing pressures on our cities and infrastructure systems with particular focus on sustainable development. 

Chairing this debate, Keith Clarke CBE, challenged our panellists Sean Lockie, Atkins; Jackie Sadek UK Regeneration; Peter Head CBE, The Ecological Sequestration Trust, to consider the urban future we want and can provide as engineering and construction professionals. 

So how do we guarantee good quality transport infrastructure connecting citizens with homes, schools, workplaces; access to parks, nature and outdoor spaces for all citizens; strong and resilient economic development through managed urban development which can support local jobs; and build safe and sustainable cities. 

Much of our urban infrastructure in the UK, and globally, is at capacity and aging, limiting its efficiency and opportunities for our cities to grow. The panel raised concerns that designing for retrofit is not sophisticated enough yet, we need to continue working on decarbonising our infrastructure and considering circular economy models. While a difficult subject, the recent release of the Green Construction Board’s PAS2080 Carbon Management in Infrastructure could be key to supporting decarbonisation through standards and specifications. We’ll be looking at this issue in more detail in Autumn 2016 so keep an eye on member news for updates on this topic. 

And of course, we can’t consider cities and infrastructure without addressing the even thornier issue of political cycles and financial structures. The Capex - Opex - Totex remains one of the biggest barriers in delivering long term sustainable infrastructure projects, and one to which there seems to be slow movement in addressing. However, all is not lost as the panel described several exceptional projects which have inspired them and developed long term sustainable development plans, including the King’s Cross development by Argent. 
You can hear more of these projects in our CIRIA debate videos and soundbites which will be released through Member News.

The role of city governance and devolving decision making to cities was also proposed as a solution to the impact of national political cycles, allowing long term planning and development of urban areas around the UK, with Manchester and Liverpool held up as good examples of the direct positive impact city governance can have. 

If you missed the debate keep an eye on CIRIA Member News for the release of videos and blogs from the evening, we will be keeping the conversation going on social media using #CIRIAdebate and #sustainablecities. In fact we’ve had such a fantastic response so far that we are already planning for next year’s debate. We’ll be announcing plans in early Autumn so keep an eye out for sponsorship and speaking opportunities! 

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