Jo Baker, Mott MacDonald development manager and Clare Wildfire, Mott MacDonald technical principal
The growth in our cities is relentless, creating demand for more and better housing, and parallel demand for connectivity. Lack of connectivity restricts access to work, health, education and leisure activities, and this can contribute to economic underperformance, social isolation and instability.
Mayors face the challenge of planning, funding and delivering inclusive growth in the face of rapid change and significant uncertainty. In addition to the impacts of migration and ongoing financial constraint, digital technologies are profoundly changing work, leisure and retail behaviours, while social equality and inclusion demands significant work to improve access to quality transport and housing for all.
Plan a liveable city
Planning of integrated sustainable developments can be aided by digital technologies designed to analyse the accessibility of employment and essential services, such as schools and hospitals, from potential housing land.
A land-use plan which ensures housing is located close to essential services can help to create a ‘short-distance city’ where walking and cycling become transport modes of choice, contributing to environmental improvement and longer-term public health.
City leaders must be aware that in the absence of high-quality public transport, private cars often meet the need for connectivity, with consequences for the environment and public health.
Coping with migration and the influx of refugees presents a housing issue that municipalities can prepare for. Digital project delivery methods including building information modelling (BIM) and design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA) make it possible to deliver many thousands of housing units – plus supporting infrastructure – faster and at lower cost than is achievable with conventional construction. Using BIM, a standardised set of designs can be drawn up for buildings and infrastructure that can be delivered rapidly in response to a crisis.
Designs should cover housing units and communal buildings such as clinics and schools, as well as infrastructure. There is also a need for generic urban plans that can direct spatial zoning within settlements, organise utilities, and govern growth. Industry is developing such techniques for speed and efficiency in developed nations; the challenge for the Global Parliament is how to create the conditions for such benefits to be directed towards those in most need.
1 Taxation: Providing robust, efficient, affordable public transport has an ‘uplift’ effect on land value – a well-serviced bus interchange typically raises value by 5%-15%, and a commuter rail hub by 10%-20%, over a radial area of up to 1.5km. Additionally the density and value of property within this area will also be higher. This provides an opportunity for city administrations to generate revenue through direct and indirect levies or contributions in kind, or to mandate the inclusion of housing and affordable public amenities.
2 Alternative assessment models: Mayors can also progress much-needed housing and transport improvements by challenging conventional cost-benefit analysis methods, to prove there is a business case that will justify investment. Traditional economic appraisal models highlight, for example, reduced journey times as the primary benefit. To unlock investment, what’s needed is a wider economic assessment that identifies and captures all the potential local social and economic benefits, and quantify their contribution to the regional or national economy – for example economic regeneration, access to employment, healthcare and education, improved safety, health and wellbeing.
Understanding the priorities of communities and stakeholders is essential to inform the planning of future developments. Stated preference research, which combines qualitative and quantitative methods, will identify the intangible outcomes – such as a cleaner living environment – that really matter to local people.
Embrace the new
As economies and generational aspirations shift, expectations of ownership, space and privacy can change, meaning new housing models such as shared living and intergenerational homes, or even of micro-homes, may become viable. Some of these alternative housing models may come from disruptive new market entrants. In addition to bringing much needed space and cost efficiency, they will address other critical city issues such as social isolation and energy demand.
In many cities, rapid urban development is commonplace, using modular solutions, BIM-based catalogues of ready-designed construction products, and DfMA. All offer time, cost and carbon savings, improve safety during construction, and subsequently enable easier adaptation or reuse in response to changing city needs.
Far-sighted cities are beginning to create digital ‘twins’ that model key aspects of the physical world. These enable complex information to be gathered and understood, performance to be monitored, scenarios planned and options tested, leading to faster planning, better decisions and improved outcomes for city hall and citizen alike.
Mayors have a critical role to play in encouraging, enabling and gaining acceptance for innovations that will optimise their spend to meet today’s needs in a cost-effective way, while being prepared for tomorrow’s pressures, demographic, economic or climatic.
In affluent cities, private car ownership is likely to remain common, but in the coming decade there will be a large-scale shift from internal combustion to electric power. Electric vehicles can store power and release it back to the grid when parked, contributing to energy efficiency and resilience of supply for homeowners and the area power provider alike.
Mayors can play an important role by supporting the development of smart grids and vehicle charging infrastructure in their cities.
The introduction of autonomous vehicles into cities is an uncertainty that is essential to consider, not just due to the impact on city planning but also on energy use; steering a solution based on shared rides rather than single-use will help to curtail the potential increase in energy demand that use of autonomous vehicles could inadvertently generate.