The engineer's role in the future city

This week ICE launched its new Urbanisation webpage, exploring some of the issues which will impact upon our urban spaces in coming decades as populations grow – transport, housing, land-use and new technology. Andrew Comer FICE, chair of the Urbanisation Steering Group, looks at these challenges and explores what we mean by ‘smart cities’.

Main image caption: Despite pressures on our urban environments, the ‘smart city’ remains an aspiration rather than a reality.
Main image caption: Despite pressures on our urban environments, the ‘smart city’ remains an aspiration rather than a reality.

During the past two decades, there has been an inexorable shift in the approach to and delivery of urban development, whether new urban quarters or regeneration of urban areas with declining social and economic indices. This has been characterised not just by the converging pattern of world demographics but by the increasing focus and level of technical detail required of development proposals at the early feasibility and planning stages.

Cities as systems

This ‘renewed’ interest in ensuring adequate thought has been given to the infrastructure systems of cities has been driven primarily by concerns about the environmental impact of urban development and a growing awareness of the need to conserve dwindling natural resources as well as the consequences of global warming.

The result has been that civil engineers have been called on to develop integrated strategies to ensure that not only movement of people and goods is efficient, but also strategies for resilient power supply, management of water resources and for treating waste as a resource. Part of this role, as it has existed since the industrial revolution, is to ensure that the scientific discoveries and advances in technology can be applied to the benefit of clients, municipal governments and citizens alike.

Smarter cities

One of the responses to these drivers of change has been for greater attention to be given to the potency of information communication and technology (ICT). Smart buildings, supported by computer-controlled and linked building environment systems, have evolved over a number of years and, in terms of the best practice and, while in certain aspects such as power consumption the returns on investment are diminishing, there has been very little implementation of product lifecycle management tools in the design, simulation, delivery and operations of buildings,

which could strip significant capital costs. Equally, through improving the coordination of the virtual building models with real-time building management systems, operational costs could be likewise reduced. The enabling factor will be the implementation of smart ICT in this area.


Andrew Comer FICE interviews Steve Lewis, CEO of Living PlanIT, about the role of technology in addressing society’s challenges.

Thinking more broadly should offer the opportunity to apply similar principals at a city scale with even greater scope for returns on both economic and environmental indicators. So with pressure to respond to global concerns, greater regulatory measures being imposed and the technology available, why is the smart city still an aspiration rather than a reality?

You can read the full article and explore the issues surrounding urbanisation by exploring our urbanisation campaign.

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