Urban planning urgently needs rethinking, says Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh

RIYADH: Cities are likely to play a central role in shaping the global pursuit of a clean energy, zero emissions future. However, experts speaking at the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh on Wednesday said urban planning needs to be urgently rethought first.

The scale of the challenges facing urban populations around the world is forcing architects, urban planners and developers to revisit traditional models of new cities, prioritizing the environment, technology and human well-being .

It is difficult to modify existing cities in ways that address some of their most fundamental problems, such as introducing more green spaces, walkways and advanced technologies designed to reduce waste and overconsumption of resources.

This is why, on the second day of the forum, the agenda included a session intended to re-examine the definition of livability and to analyze the possibilities of completely new cities based on completely different conceptions, values ​​and conceptions.

The future of the world’s urban spaces and how to design them to maximize quality of life was one of the topics discussed by experts during the FII in Riyadh on Wednesday. (Provided)

For much of human history, the majority of people lived in rural communities. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion, of which around 70% will live in urban areas, putting a strain on the planet and communities.

The coming decades will prove essential in transforming the way people live and the resources at their disposal, through the establishment of infrastructures for new forms of energy, mobility and sustainable and respectful lifestyles. of the environment.

During an FII panel, titled “Designing Cities for 2122”, moderator Nik Gowing, founder and co-director of Thinking the Unthinkable, an independent project helping leaders understand the threats and opportunities in the new era of radical uncertainty and disruption, said many people do not understand “how we are going to deal with a large number of people who expect to live in cities in one way or another, even if the cities do not are not built to deal with it”.

Mohammed Alabbar, Founder of Emaar Properties, said the problems facing ever-growing cities around the world can only be solved by adopting sustainable and smart solutions that balance economic and social development through efforts to collaboration between the private and public sectors.

Mohammed Alabbar, founder of Emaar Properties. (Provided)

“I think everything will be driven by technology,” Alabbar told the panel. “I think we as humans are at huge risk, but we are also very capable.”

Governments around the world are embracing a transition to building more inclusive, smart and resilient cities. This has led to new approaches to planning and governance to create what are perceived as ‘good’ cities.

Although somewhat difficult to define, the change has created a culture of experimentation that pushes the boundaries of urban planning.

For example, in Saudi Arabia, several massive development projects are underway, bringing together the different architectural styles found across the Kingdom, embracing archaeological preservation, natural topography and sustainable practices.

Speaking at Wednesday’s panel, David Grover, CEO of Roshn Group, a pioneering real estate developer in the Kingdom and a public investment fund project, said it was important for city planners to design and build buildings that can adapt over time to accommodate population growth. and lifestyle changes, and are properly equipped to address environmental concerns.

Roshn Group CEO David Grover. (Provided)

“We’re already looking at designs that are 20% more efficient than the Saudi building code, so we’re promoting energy conservation, technology in the home so it can be controlled and monitored remotely, so we’re thinking about anything that will add long-term benefit,” Grover said.

Creating new green spaces for pedestrians, prioritizing public transport infrastructure, installing electric vehicle charging stations and introducing micro-mobility options in the form of scooters and e-bikes will help reduce the existing reliance on private vehicles, reduce traffic congestion while reducing emissions and air pollution, he added.

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, urban planning focused on building increasingly dense housing, expanding the circulation network, and integrating advanced technologies, often at the expense of well-being. being, environment and resources.

Today, computer simulations can help predict what a building, or even an entire city, will look like before construction begins, allowing planners to better shape urban spaces and lessen their footprint.

“The digital twin can reproduce what a city will look like and simulate the creation of new infrastructure, the creation of a new district in the city, and the impact it will have on gas emissions, for example, but also on the global base of the city before taking the decision to build,” said panelist Laurent Germain, CEO of Egis, an international company active in the consultancy, construction engineering and mobility services sectors which designs and operates smart infrastructure and buildings.

Laurent Germain, CEO of Egis, an international company active in the consulting, construction engineering and mobility services sectors. (Provided)

“Technology will be the key to the urban planning of the future.”

Japan has begun work on a human-centric smart city – dubbed “Woven City” – where new automated driving technology, personal mobility, robotics and artificial intelligence will help change the narrative of how the cities of the future should work.

Located at the foot of Mount Fuji, the prototype city will be powered by a small hydrogen fuel cell system, suitable for a population of nearly 350, which could grow to 2,000.

Toyota Chairman and CEO Akio Toyoda unveils plans to build a prototype “city” of the future at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on January 6, 2020. ( AFP)

Saudi Arabia is also reinventing the urban experience with its own flagship giga-project, NEOM. The Kingdom’s smart-city, which is currently emerging on the Red Sea coast, will be the world’s first cognitive city based on new technological innovations.

Saudi Arabia’s latest project, The Line, is a 170-kilometre hyper-connected, linear, car-free city built to provide essential services to millions of people, all within walking distance.

Such urban concepts are designed to adapt to changing living and working habits.

The Line is a proposed linear smart city in Tabuk Province, Saudi Arabia that will have no cars, no streets and no carbon emissions. (Courtesy of NEOM)

Indeed, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdowns forced students and workers to stay home, entire swathes of the economy moved entirely online, leaving traditional office spaces and largely redundant transport infrastructure.

As the trend continues and more of the economy shifts to cyberspace, urban spaces will be forced to adapt to changing demands. For traditional and established cities such as Chicago, New York, Houston, Singapore and others, this transformation will not be easy.

That’s why many pundits and investors are looking to Asia’s emerging economies, blessed with a blank canvas, for clues about the future of urban planning.

“The quality of what is built and the infrastructure will dictate the future of these cities, their success and their growth,” said Barry Sternlicht, president and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, a private equity firm. based in the United States. sign.

“It’s a very interesting and fascinating time for people who think long term.”