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Can a city be sustainable? Five ways cities will have to change in the future. 

Why are sustainable cities important? What is the future of urban development? According to United Nations forecasts, the world’s urban spaces will triple in size between 2000 and 2030. That means that for every 3 people, 2 of them will live in cities. This calls for an enormous need need for housing, business facilities, water supplies, power grids and transport networks. Clearly, smart cities are a necessity. 

The climate crisis is making us re-think everything we thought we knew. Power generation and energy storage mechanisms are changing drastically, as is the way we use electricity in homes, offices and industry. The digital revolution has started and the technological shift it is setting in motion is gradually reshaping every aspect of our daily lives. This revolution, in turn, is generating huge demand for new infrastructure to harvest, transport, store and process information, to give people more control over the changes unfolding around them.  

Not surprisingly, all these challenges are concentrating in cities. So there really is no other choice for cities but to be more sustainable in every way: they need to be denser, more frugal, smarter and more people-friendy. The entire mobility landscape needs to undergo deep-reaching transformation.  

Koning & Hartman heeft een ruime expertise in data-integratie, connectivity en smart solutions. Wij luisteren naar uw verhaal en uw behoeften en bedenken samen met u slimme oplossingen.


The challenge, in a nutshell, is to support urban development, contain sprawl and keep cities pleasant. So far, the default direction for cities to grow has been up. Electricity and lifts started this trend and it won’t be slowing down any time soon. Still, that hasn’t stopped urban areas from becoming increasingly crowded and land becoming extremely scarce. So it makes sense to ask if up is really the only way to go. Or, in other words, why can’t we use space below ground for more than pipes, wires and subway trains? Why can’t we build cities beneath cities instead of just above them?


The other big question is how cities can consume less energy and accommodate more people at the same time. Part of the answer involves revamping construction methods and redesigning power networks (to limit losses, mainly). But solving this conundrum will take a paradigm shift, too: roads, buildings and other infrastructure and facilities that consume energy today – or in the best of cases function “passively” – will be able to produce energy.  

The circular economy, which is gaining traction today and will be growing stronger as time goes by, is about more than reusing and recycling resources: it is ushering in new business, social and cultural models. Miniaturisation and digitalisation are opening the door to new sources of energy and fast-tracking microgrid development in cities. These local grids will balance production and consumption in real time in neighbourhoods, enabling the people in them to manage and share power. And cities could plausibly build self-sufficient energy systems. 


Denser cities mean less urban sprawl and therefore less harm to biodiversity skirting urban areas. But there’s a more exciting question we can ask: can cities actively foster biodiversity? Sustainable cities will do more than assess their impacts on biodiversity: they will opt for large-scale development of green roofs and walls, or set aside more space for urban agriculture. 


These new developments have a huge impact on mobility as well: 

  • As cities become denser, more virtuous alternatives to private cars will gradually take over. There are usually plenty of options if you have to travel less than 10 kilometres (cycling or public transport, for instance) or more than 100 kilometres (motorways, intercity expressways, trains and planes). Everyday trips between 10 and 100 kilometres are a different story though; private cars are still used 80% of the time on these routes. To solve this, cities will need to rearrange their public transport services and create new routes. Carpooling and intermodal travel (using more than one means of transport for one journey) will also make cities more sustainable.  
  • Sustainable cities will need to tackle the last-kilometre parcel-delivery transport and logistics challenge to ease congestion as well.  
  • Lastly, autonomous vehicles are bound to rearrange cities. This entirely new mobility option will mainstream carpooling and owning a private vehicle may well become a thing of the past. But for all that to happen, cities need suitable and smart road infrastructure. 


Densifying cities, energy transition, climate transition and mobility are only a few of the challenges that would be impossible to tackle without digital technology and artificial intelligence. Digital technology will therefore be ubiquitous in sustainable cities.  

Artificial intelligence is being used in more and more areas of our daily lives. Automation and big data processing are no doubt the real revolution we will see this century. AI, however, will only support sustainable development if we feed it smart data – meaning relevant data at the right time.

Automation 4.0 and robotics are also becoming essential. Robots do more than repetitive tasks and won’t necessarily be confined to production plants: they are moving into businesses and the world of work in general, and into homes to provide a whole new array of services. New technologies are also upending customer relationships by opening the door to new services, which are in turn reshaping our lifestyles and ushering in new consumption patterns. Developments in digital technology will turn yesteryear’s passive infrastructure into living and communicating systems, and bring about new and ever more valuable experiences for customers and users. 

In the construction industry, Building Information Modelling (BIM) will be the new normal. BIM tools create 3D models of facilities and infrastructure on digital platforms, which the people designing, building and maintaining those facilities and infrastructure share. The extensive use of BIM is radically optimising design, construction and maintenance work today, and will be improving products, enhancing services, slashing costs and saving a lot of time going forward. Let's not forget the development of digital twins and the further rise of Building Operation Systems. Koning & Hartman België is prepared for the challenge. 

Source: Vinci report Innovation for a Sustainable World, June 2018

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Koning & Hartman Belgium advises and supports your smart building projects using the ICONICS intelligent building software. With our years of experience and know-how, we help companies transition to a smarter and sustainable future. 


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