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Why smart cities need smarter construction

Devolution is certainly in vogue at the moment and with plans for more UK cities to get new mayors over the next year, it is probably a good time to think about the key ingredients in making smart cities a reality.

‘Smart’ itself is not a new concept, with many cities such as Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester already pioneering with ultrafast free open access city centre mobile broadband, free wifi in public buildings and programmes to support SMEs to improve their digital skills.

The first key ingredient for any UK city is leadership.

This is good news for the soon-to-be-elected mayors, but please leave the ego at the door – leadership is not about just cutting ribbons.

Instead, it’s about getting the right group of leaders together, from the public and private sector, to create, drive and deliver a vision for their city.

Developers and contractors need to be sitting at that top table too, as what is required alongside the visionary perspectives are the practicalities of actually making it happen.

Urban innovations

As cities grow and demands on space increase, developers and planners will face pressure to integrate new technology and new ways of thinking to ensure cities continue to be desirable places to live, work and play.

“With years of under investment in UK infrastructure, we need to play catch-up”

Charging points for electric vehicles are springing up across UK cities and are fast becoming a familiar sight. The sharing economy is also having an impact – with authorities designating parking for car clubs such as Zipcar over private vehicles.

We need to see more advanced cycling infrastructure and policy on encouraging walking across cities. These include cycle superhighways and legible London walking maps in London.

The focus needs to be on evolution not revolution through constantly improving city design and planning in these areas.

With years of under investment in UK infrastructure, we need to play catch-up and build it fast.

Without investment and enhancements, a city cannot maximise its potential – 5G mobile coverage should be the norm today, for example.

Smart building for smart cities

As a result, there is huge pressure on construction to evolve into new technologies: geographic information system, BIM and 3D printing are just a few examples of how embedding technologies can improve building and asset monitoring.

”The focus needs to be on evolution not revolution”

We have to build smart and be efficient and effective in construction, thinking sustainably as well as building in resilience and relevance for the future.

Devolution brings a local angle to a wider strategic agenda.

Focusing on how people move within the city, plus improving collaboration through smart thinking, will ensure UK cities of today can still be the smart city of tomorrow and can stake claims to becoming trendsetters globally.

Amanda Clack is head of infrastructure advisory at EY

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