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Data is Turning into Cities’ Circulatory System

On 27 May, 2019 Steven Griffiths, Senior Vice President for Research and Development at Khalifa University of Science and Technology (UAE), and member of the International Award Committee of the Global Energy Prize, delivered an open lecture at the Higher School of Economics.

Vicente Guallart, academic supervisor of HSE Mater’s Programme 'Prototyping Future Cities' and former chief architect of Barcelona City Council, commented on the lecturer’s ideas in the 'public talk' format. The meeting was moderated by Leonid Gokhberg, HSE First Vice Rector and ISSEK Director.

Watch video of the lecture

Presentation by Steven Griffiths

Cities currently occupy just 2–3% of the Earth’s surface, but they are home to about 55% of the world’s population, produce about 80% of the global output, consume about two thirds of energy resources, and generate more than 70% of carbon emissions. Cities will continue to grow; by 2050 about 70% of the world's population will be concentrated in them. Urbanisation will affect not only the developed, but also the poorer regions of the world, such as Africa and Southeast Asia.

Cities of the Future, Smart and Sustainable

To become a part of the sustainable development paradigm, cities must 'get smart'. Data, the flow of which is growing exponentially, is becoming the circulatory system of smart cities, and this trend is only going to grow. By 2020 each person on Earth will be generating about 1.7 MB of data every second. In technological terms, the main changes in cities of the future will be adoption of 5G networks and active application of artificial intelligence to optimise urban management systems.

As an example, the speaker cited the United Arab Emirates where urbanisation is at 85%, but in terms of digitisation there is a considerable potential for development. The main components of the UAE strategy to promote development of smart and sustainable cities, suggested by Khalifa University, are using clean and renewable energy, sustainable water use, reduced burden on the environment, hydrocarbon production, improved health care, more efficient logistics chains, and development of aerospace industry. Horisontal robotics, artificial intelligence, and data management solutions should be applied in all these areas, along with advanced manufacturing technologies and materials.

In the UAE, creation of sustainable smart cities is a government priority, implementing which requires joint effort by universities, research institutes and R&D centres specialising in relevant areas, and businesses. As a result of this synergy the AI Climate Monitoring and Forecasting Laboratory has been established, along with Renewable Energy Management System, Joint Transport and Healthcare Research Centre, Cyber-Physical Systems Research Centre, Autonomous Robotic Systems Research Centre, Graphene Innovative Engineering Centre, etc.

Steven Griffiths specified the main characteristics of sustainable cities: decarbonised electricity generation, optimised energy consumption in buildings, new mobility patterns, and more advanced waste management systems. In the speaker’s opinion, significant progress in this areas will help accomplish climate-related goals of the Paris agreement. It will also have other benefits: improved quality of the environment (including reduced pollution and more efficient use of resources); increased social cohesion, safety, and people’s participation in dealing with local issues; reduced time for mobility and administrative formalities; new jobs; improved health; and slightly lower living costs.

6 Forks Cities Will Have to Face in the New Century

Dr Griffiths identified six types of modern cities, with different properties and development paths:

  1. Insufficiently developed urban centres with small population, low population density and living standards (such as, e.g., Marrakesh in Morocco);
  2. Poor overpopulated cities with large population, high population density and low living standards (such as, e.g., Manila in the Philippines);
  3. Emerging megacities with large population, low population density and low living standards (such as, e.g., Chongqing in the PRC);
  4. Sprawling metropolitan areas with large population, low population density and high living standards (such as, e.g., Los Angeles in the US);
  5. Urban powerhouses with large population, high population density and high living standards (such as, e.g., Hong Kong in the PRC);
  6. Flourishing communities — cities with small population, low population density and high living standards (such as, e.g., Copenhagen in Denmark).

The speaker stressed that in cities of the first three types public transport and transport infrastructure (i.e. roads) were developed poorly, while in the other triad highly developed transport infrastructure was designed to encourage use of public transport or personal cars.

All of the above city types develop all the time. Figure 1 shows the main possible development paths.

In the subsequent discussion Vicente Guallart noted that the technological revolution was imposing new approaches to planning smart cities of the future. He mentioned the Masdar ecocity project and the Hyperloop hypersonic transportation system in Abu Dhabi. The Masdar project by Foster and Partners envisages building the first city in the world with a sustainable environment supported by renewable energy sources. The highspeed line for hypersonic vacuum-driven Hyperloop trains will connect the Abu Dhabi capital, Al Ain, and Dubai.

'We’ll need to train a new generation of city managers to create smart cities, who will be able to balance management objectives and application of new technologies in the urban environment', concluded Vicente Guallart.

Two international Master’s programmes offer relevant competences at the Higher School of Economics: 'Governance of Science, Technology and Innovation' based at the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge, and 'Prototyping Future Cities' at the Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism.

All photos from the event in the album on Flickr