Future cities

You may have heard of smart cities – a city that takes advantage of connected sensors and devices to make smart decisions based on real time data. But a new term has arrived: ‘Future cities’. This can mean different things to different people. To me, a future city is one that can provide a thriving economy and good quality of life with a minimal environmental footprint. It is resilient to stress and change such as global warming and an ageing population. 

Cities are hugely complicated. City environments are tightly tangled, from water to waste, from energy to infrastructure and from education to the economy. But cities are also complicated because of the huge number of people, groups and organisations all doing their best to think about the future and make our cities the best they can be for its citizens. Services, organisations and products all interact. A successful future city integrates the working of many organisations to cut through complexity and create innovative solutions for urban living.

So who makes a city future-proof? Collaborations do.

Navigating the sea of organisations involved is challenging. The Royal Academy of Engineering has produced an interactive to help city stakeholders visualise how different organisations have worked together to produce positive change. For example, local councils might use it to consider new partners and business leaders could identify new customers. The general public, as well, might find it interesting to picture the whole ‘system’ in one image.

Our interactive illustrates many different types of groups that could be enhanced by partnerships. Clicking on each level reveals examples and more information.

Let’s say I wanted to introduce more electric cars to combat city pollution and congestion. As well as having zero emissions, sensors embedded in electric cars and road infrastructure could provide real time data to help ease traffic. But who should I collaborate with?

Firstly, I’d need to know about the technology. From research institutes I would learn about the latest developments. The private sector, such as BMW, could advise on the best business models to promote electric cars. I could also learn lessons from other cities that have previously trialled similar programmes.

The Academy’s interactive includes three detailed case studies of how different organisations innovated together in partnerships. Learn about creating inclusive travel in Reading, a growing infrastructure for the Internet of Things in Milton Keynes and partnerships enabling a digital economy in Birmingham.

Take a look at futurecities.raeng.org and tell us what you uncovered using #RAEngCities and @RAEngNews.