It’s 2030 and new sustainable neighbourhoods have sprung up in the heart of major cities, across the developed world. They are inclusive and foster cohesive communities in which neighbours know and support each other. People of all ages want to live in them.
Houses are affordable and the surrounding areas are safe and secure, promoting multi-generational community living. Buildings are low carbon and adaptable to different uses, supporting living, working and socialising. The neighbourhoods generate much of their own energy. They are largely traffic-free, accessible to all, with pedestrian routes, cycle lanes, open spaces, playgrounds and greenery to encourage outdoor activity and support wellbeing, as well as sustain and restore ecology and biodiversity. Equality is important – people’s needs are met locally, with easy access to shops, schools, restaurants, health hubs and leisure facilities. Excellent public transport provides equally easy access to work, services and amenities outside the immediate area. Homes and infrastructure are digitally connected, helping to optimise performance and improve people’s quality of life.
This is how
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1. Best use of space
Major cities in developed economies continue to expand, remaining the most desirable places to live, work, and play. Underused land owned by local authorities, transport operators and utilities has been transformed into attractive new neighbourhoods that enhance and strengthen the existing community, making space for young people, families, the elderly and growing businesses.
Developments are mixed use, providing much needed low-carbon, high-quality, affordable homes and community facilities as well as local amenities and places to work. They’re the catalyst for wider regeneration, creation of new and improved infrastructure and provision of community benefits, bringing new jobs and boosting local economies.
Developers and investors are attracted by the residential, retail, leisure and commercial opportunities, and landowners, such as transport bodies, enjoy additional revenue streams, while helping to drive positive social outcomes across cities.
Inspiring change: Our vision for Clapham Junction in London
Our tools: Moata digital solutions can help optimise the use of space
2. Delivering positive outcomes for all
Two critical agendas have come together. The need to create better places for people – accessible, inclusive and resilient, empowering citizens and contributing to improved wellbeing – is enshrined in the purpose of most public and private organisations, supported by policy and legislation (see 11. Giving everyone a voice). At the same time, local authorities and transport providers must generate new revenue to counter the long-term fiscal and financial impacts of COVID-19.
The result: Collaboration between central and local governments, and private sector partners, who together are developing redundant and underutilised sites, pursuing strategies to address social exclusion and inequality, reduce poverty, and improve health and wellbeing. They are creating new neighbourhoods, providing affordable and sustainable housing, leisure facilities, and car-free streets and public spaces that encourage walking, cycling and outdoor exercise.
Communities are mixed, containing apartments for young adults, family homes, and housing for older people and those with particular access requirements. Less traffic and more vegetation have reduced air pollution and urban heat – two of the biggest risks to health in urban areas, particularly for youngest and oldest citizens. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, buildings and spaces are designed and managed to reduce crowding and infection risk.
Convenient and safe public transport linked by a network of multimodal transport hubs enables residents to travel easily outside their area to access employment, education and training, essential services such as health and social care, and recreation. On-demand mobility services are available as and when required.
Inspiring change: Our social outcomes framework is built around five core principles, which we use to set objectives for, and measure the success of, the projects we work on:
- Accessibility – to housing, transport and amenities
- Inclusion – no one left behind, diverse participation with rights, freedoms and choice, equality between people
- Empowerment – inclusive and regenerative growth, access to education, training and secure employment, information and communications
- Resilience – inclusive public realm and natural environment, climate resilient and sustainable communities, sustainable energy, water and sanitation systems
- Wellbeing – good mental and physical health, safety and security, access to quality health and social care
Inspiring change: What we mean by social inclusion.
Project delivery: New homes in Sydney’s south-west suburb Minto
Project delivery: Our Wellbeing Impact Evaluation (WELLIE) tool was used to evaluate social outcomes for the redevelopment of Pontypridd town centre
Our tools: Moata ESG – our solution for measuring the environmental, social and governance impacts of infrastructure assets
Our tools: Evidence-based decision making using EDIT – our equality, diversity and inclusion sifting tool
Our tools: RESI – our residential economic and social impact tool – supports the early planning process for residential developments
Our guide: Tackling infection risk in buildings
3. Future working
Spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020/21, the number of people commuting daily into central business districts has reduced. Many in the knowledge economy are going to company offices only one or two days a week, working the rest of their time from home or in local co-working and meeting spaces. These shared workplaces have been developed by transport agencies at or close to local transport hubs. Alongside them, space for small service businesses, shops, restaurants, health hubs, leisure facilities and homes have been created. Schools, healthcare facilities and entertainment venues are at most a 15-minute journey away by public transport. The shift in working patterns has created thriving local economies, generating jobs for local people. Direct and indirect levies on the greater number of burgeoning local businesses generate additional revenue for local authorities and landowners.
Project delivery: Transforming a 10ha site around Cambridge rail station into an exciting mixed-use hub
Our tools: Build a project business case with our Transparent Economic Assessment Model (TEAM)
Inspiring change: Vision-led decision-making for an uncertain world using the FUTURES methodology
4. Low-carbon living
Buildings and infrastructure are net-zero carbon, making the new developments eligible for green bonds and loans, and financial support from the world’s largest institutional investors – all of which are committed to climate-responsible investment.
Smart building management systems optimise energy consumption and comfort, while passive measures, such as natural lighting and shading, reduce energy demand. Solar panels in roofs, windows and façades generate power, with surpluses stored for future consumption. Renewable energy from the national grid tops up supplies as necessary.
Countries are fast decarbonising their heat networks. Hydrogen boilers, ground source heat pumps and electric power meet thermal comfort needs in new developments. District heat networks, powered by renewable electricity and hydrogen, are beginning to supply heat in densely populated urban areas, following the introduction of policies and regulations in 2025 to protect consumers and accelerate investment in the infrastructure. In some locations, heat networks enable ‘waste’ heat to be captured from metro tunnels or data centres, for example, and transferred to schools and hospitals. Interseasonal thermal energy storage, using underground boreholes, is starting to prove its worth for both heating and cooling.
[We authored the UK government’s seminal Infrastructure Carbon Review and the international standard for managing carbon in infrastructure, PAS 2080.]
Project delivery: How we created one of the UK’s leading low-carbon buildings
Inspiring change: Zero-carbon heat is possible: This is how
Supporting clients: How our carbon management team can help drive down your carbon
5. Digitally empowered
Everyone is digitally connected. High-speed broadband is supplied to every household, with the cost of connection and a web-capable device covered by government for the poorest. Home working is practical for most people, where the jobs they do are suited. It’s particularly beneficial for employees with caring responsibilities and people with restricted mobility and appreciated by all. It is easier to access essential services – from social support to healthcare and banking. Seeking employment is simpler. And school pupils and university students regularly attend lessons and submit work online.
Digitalisation has also transformed the infrastructure industry by enabling data to be used for improved decision-making, which in turn delivers better outcomes and value for clients and society. Known in the industry as ‘Infrastructure 4.0’, the shift encompasses:
Digital planning, modelling and design, encompassing augmented and virtual reality – which enable rapid optioneering, stakeholder engagement and feedback, and design optimisation
Digitally enabled collaboration – which enables the creation of integrated teams to deliver and manage buildings and infrastructure, focusing on common goals and desired outcomes
Robotics and design for manufacture and assembly – creating buildings and infrastructure more efficiently and safely, to high quality and with lower carbon emissions
Digital twins (digital representations of the real world) supported by artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation, sensors and real-time data streaming – which together enable performance improvements in asset delivery and through-life operation and management
Landowners, architects, planners, designers and engineers are using sophisticated geospatial tools and data to map, design and enhance sites, streets, neighbourhoods and even cities. Digital tools and solutions enable spatial modelling, analysis and visualisation, helping inform decisions about everything from how to balance social, economic and environmental needs across a site to where solar panels should be installed for maximum energy yield and planning walking and cycling routes for greatest convenience and safety.
Digital twins are produced as a matter of course for all major new buildings and infrastructure. The data in digital twins provides asset owners and operators with insight into performance and condition, and how users feel. It enables them to make better interventions that produce better outcomes for people and communities.
Inspiring change: How digital twins can help you and your clients
Project delivery: Digital tools and precast elements deliver Sydney Metro Northwest
Our tools: Moata digital design solutions
6. Well connected
All the essentials for thriving, sustainable communities and high levels of wellbeing have been front-of-mind in developing the new neighbourhoods. They are well served by infrastructure, convenient public services, open green spaces and facilities. They are resilient, able to adapt and cope with anything from severe weather to a health pandemic. They are built to evolve over time, in step with society’s changing needs.
It’s no accident. The digital revolution has enabled a far better understanding of the interconnections and interdependencies between the different engineered and natural, physical and socioeconomic systems that make cities work and that society depends on. The result has been ever better collaboration and co-ordination between all the different players involved in creating successful large-scale urban developments. They have worked closely with diverse community representatives to set out objectives, based on clearly defined needs and desired outcomes.
Inspiring change: Unlocking better outcomes for society by looking at infrastructure as a system of systems
7. Building better
From the mid-2020s, buildings and infrastructure have been assembled onsite using design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA): designs are based on modular, standardised components, built in a factory and then assembled when they arrive on site.
For the people who live and work in buildings created using DfMA, the benefits come from design and build quality: they’re warmer in winter and cooler in summer, saving money on energy bills as well as providing better comfort; they provide better noise insulation; and they’re adaptable. Modular buildings created using DfMA are easy to alter by adding or removing components to suit changing purposes, lifestyles and demands for space. Ultimately, they are also easy to disassemble.
As a result of both incentives and corporate social purpose, DfMA manufacturing hubs are located in areas of high socioeconomic deprivation. They support thousands of high-value jobs in different parts of the country, helping to address regional inequalities. Those jobs are safer than traditional construction.
Further benefits include time, cost, materials and waste reductions. On-site activities are limited to access, foundations, assembly of manufactured components, finishing and landscaping, meaning there is far less construction-related disruption to those living or working next to a project site.
All projects delivered using DfMA are digitally equipped, enabling building and infrastructure owners and managers to monitor performance and condition, and plan repairs, maintenance or improvements to best meet the needs of end users.
Inspiring change: How DfMA is reinventing infrastructure
Inspiring change: Eliminating construction waste by switching to modular, factory-built construction methods
Project delivery: Engineering one of the UK’s first factory-made buildings: Royal Victoria building
8. At one with nature
Regenerative design principles have been widely adopted and are increasingly encouraged by local planning policy, regulation and legislation, and financial incentives. Regenerative design goes beyond sustainability: it is about building back healthy, biodiverse and vital ecosystems, rather than merely doing no harm. ‘Urban regeneration’, sparked by the creation of new neighbourhoods and the improvement of existing ones, takes on new meaning. Better social and economic outcomes go hand-in-hand with better outcomes for the environment, too: semi-wild public spaces, green roofs and walls, urban gardening, streetscape planting and natural drainage solutions – along with a dramatic decline in transport-related air pollution and noise – are encouraging the return of plant, animal and insect species not seen in cities for decades.
Steel and concrete are still used in construction. Both materials are energy-intensive to produce and therefore have high embodied carbon footprints. However, this can be offset by using timber and biomaterials in addition to steel and concrete, and growing vegetation. Research and investment in plant-based and bio-fabricated construction materials has brought a number of carbon neutral and carbon negative products to market. Standards and specifications are being adapted to encourage their use and the supply chain is expanding.
Advances in construction mean that new buildings and infrastructure consume fewer virgin materials. Waste has been eliminated from both construction and demolition by a flourishing circular economy, with new specialist companies working to enable the effective reduction, recovery, reuse and recycling of almost everything.
New buildings and infrastructure are designed to generate and store energy for the community and capture rainwater for reuse.
Inspiring change: Amanda Sturgeon’s TED talk on using biophilic design to heal body, mind and soul
Inspiring change: Creating healthy buildings
Project delivery: Transforming Olean city centre in New York State
Our tools: Moata Carbon Portal can reduce a project’s carbon footprint
9. Green and blue, not always grey
Nature-based solutions can be found in most new developments, supplementing and replacing conventional grey infrastructure – the piped systems used to collect and dispose of rainwater and wastewater for the past century and more. Green and blue infrastructure consists of parks and wild land, and features to collect and dissipate water – for example, swales, ditches, ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. It is often less costly to deliver than conventional drainage infrastructure and requires less maintenance. And it offers much wider benefits: it brings people a little closer to nature. Green and blue infrastructure enhances the urban environment, filtering pollution from the air as well as in rainwater run-off, encouraging biodiversity, and making a dramatic contribution to people’s health and wellbeing.
Natural drainage and flood management provides protection and improves resilience against intense rainfall, which is becoming more frequent and severe as a consequence of climate change. Wetlands are part of the urban realm to capture and clean stormwater to replenish underground aquifers. Trees provide shade and help to reduce the urban heat island effect – without abundant green space, a city of 1M people can be up to 3°C warmer than its surroundings.
Innovative design and engineering are making the most of limited space, with vegetated drainage channels and planted corridors along streets, green roofs and walls on buildings, small ‘pocket parks’ between buildings, and safe routes for active travel.
Green and blue infrastructure has made neighbourhoods better and healthier places to live and work.
Inspiring change: How nature-based solutions can save money and deliver a greener future
Inspiring change: The costs and benefits of investing in green versus grey infrastructure
Project delivery: Philadelphia’s green streets programme
10. Financial models
National infrastructure investment banks are channelling money into projects that support inclusive economic growth and tackle climate change, providing a long-term source of capital at low cost in the form of equity. Housing is a priority in most developed countries and transcends short political cycles. This has created policy stability and encourages private sector investment and collaboration with the public sector.
Local planning controls and levies ensure that the gains from urban development undertaken by private landowners deliver a wider public benefit. Money raised repays loans taken out by public agencies to provide infrastructure, and to provide public services, including transport.
Long-term political commitment, the alignment of public, institutional and private sector investment, supporting controls and equitable levies create the right conditions for landowners to put underutilised sites to better use, adding to the amount of land available and increasing the density of new developments. The knock-on is less urban sprawl, less land speculation and reduced financial risk for developers.
Inspiring change: The case for a UK investment bank: Funding our future
Inspiring change: Our vision for Clapham Junction in London
11. Giving everyone a voice
Places are only great if they succeed for everyone, providing the conditions for each and every person to thrive. To ensure this happens, planning authorities and developers are legally required to involve community stakeholders in shaping plans and choosing designs. But stakeholder engagement goes far beyond ‘compliance’. People from local communities are consulted to help define the outcomes that new neighbourhoods should deliver, right at the start. Social outcomes are the primary focus of city regeneration schemes and developments.
This is because policymakers, planners, landowners, developers and the construction and infrastructure industries all recognise that engaging and listening to communities is key to achieving projects that perform better for all – community and industry alike. It enables them to:
Gain vital insight into community needs and goals, how people connect with each other and their neighbourhoods, and use public spaces – allowing the needs of all members of society to be understood and addressed, achieving neighbourhoods that are accessible, inclusive and resilient, that empower citizens and promote wellbeing
Achieve greater community buy-in and a sense of ownership
Build trust and establish dialogue
Gain clarity on exactly what is required, resulting in ‘right first time’ delivery and reduced need for retrofit solutions to meet community needs
Reduce objections, change and risk of resulting delays to project progress
Improve cost certainty
Create sustainable communities, supported by sustainable and resilient infrastructure and businesses
Achieve financial sustainability through stable long-term revenues
Digital tools are widely used, overcoming physical and cultural obstacles that can exclude hard-to-reach, disadvantaged and marginalised groups from attending traditional public meetings. The result is a more socially inclusive consultation and engagement process.
Project delivery: Public consultation helps turn a 9km stretch of disused rail corridor in Vancouver into a multimodal greenway
12. Living well
From 2020-2030, all those involved in creating and managing the built environment have awoken to the importance of creating the social, environmental and economic conditions that enable people to live well. In practical terms, that means buildings and infrastructure meet the needs of end users, and are sustainable, secure and resilient to future shocks – such as floods, droughts and pandemics. Digital technology plays a key role in achieving this.
Inspiring change: Our Great places publication
Inspiring change: Thinking of infrastructure as an interconnected ‘system of systems’ is key to human flourishing
Our guide: Pandemic-resilient infrastructure