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Why Are We Interested in the Future of Cities?

Cities are crucially important for the future of the UK and the global economy.

Cities are more creative, more productive and more vibrant than the average for their host country. They can also be very efficent users of resources.

But cities face significant problems in the future. Growing population, living with environmental change, and coping with a number of resource crunches are serious problems. Coupled with the challenges that cities face as they grow bigger; from air quality and congestion, to crime and waste handling, we need to think about cities in new ways.

We believe that there are excellent business opportunities in being able to develop integrated city systems that meet the needs of growing cities globally.

This three minute video sets out some of the basic facts and issues.

Future Cities Introduction from MBEKTN on Vimeo.


Richard Miller

Head of Sustainability, Technology Strategy Board



11 people have had something to say so far


Great video and great sentiments expressed with great opportunities.

The one thing missing however is the mention of water & wastewater. The only mention of water in the video is in the form of flooding. Supplying clean drinking water to our future cities, particularly with climate change, will be a challenge, as can can be seen from this morning's announcement that the UK Government are having a drought summit because of the worry of potential water shortages this summer in SE England/London. There is also mention of diseases in the video, some of which are water borne, highlighting the challenges of wastewater management & treatment in our future cities
Posted on 20/02/12 10:53.

You are absolutely right. Put it down to the challenge of trying to come up with a 3min contribution.

In general there are issues with all sorts of resources; in availability, access, security, environmental impact, recycling and disposal.

We will need to look at all of these issues and pick out the ones that offer the biggest potential for UK business and UK cities.

Any other issues that people think I have left out?

Posted on 20/02/12 13:08 in reply to Kerry Thomas.
Richard - your presentation covers the key challegnes we as 'city planners' face. However, the current low carbon per capiata score for cities in comparison with rural areas is as much to do with higher levels of poverty as it is to do with more efficient living. Too often the social side of sustainability is overlooked in the drive to be 'green'. Behind the low carbon capita statistic lies the worrying rapid rise of those in fuel poverty in our cities. Something which the growing gap between household income and energy prices will only serve to increase.
Posted on 20/02/12 13:25 in reply to Richard Miller.
Steve - your point is a good one. It is always useful to remind ourselves that this is every bit as much a human challenge, as it is a financial and technological one. When seeking optimise the performance of city systems, we need to put the citizen at the heart of the solutions. The more complex, long-term and inter-dependent the challenge, the easier it is for this to fall out of focus. This is good fuel to ensure that we are asking the right questions in framing the call for the Future Cities demonstrator project/s. Please do keep them coming. Also interested in others' views in the specific fuel poverty point Steve makes. Is there broad-based evidence (UK and global) to support this vs the co-benefits of density? Is it really 'as much' or a less significant factor?
Posted on 21/02/12 14:10 in reply to Steve Turner.
Scott - thanks. there was some work done about 10 years ago in Edinburgh that looked at energy savings technologies in lower income households. The results were that some of teh savings accrued were spent on additional white goods. I think one idea may be to do a combined smart meter demonstrator but linked to some very focussed but smart carbon literacy work. There that's a project idea!
Posted on 21/02/12 19:42 in reply to Scott Cain.
Keep the ideas and the evidence coming Steve. The key being integration, integration, integration, as they say...
Posted on 22/02/12 17:14 in reply to Steve Turner.
The initial direction taken with future cities has been on addressing issues to maximise/minimise their impact but with linear improvement. The opportunities from future cities extends beyond synergies between major infrastructure and utilities (smart grids/smart meters/energy from waste, urban renewables etc) to the proximity of people and ultimately changes in values.. Forgive the self-promotion element but there is a swing from commodities to premium that I believe will exchange some aspects of what people value as assets and as services, and how they are delivered centrally or distributed (article providing a fuller outline of the trend ) This may prove a useful starting point to mapping out the real 'opportunities' that lie uncharted.
Posted on 13/04/12 15:23 in reply to Scott Cain.
Scott - As a small-scale activist in a city rather than a distinguished academic, pundit or futurologist, I sigh when I read this. When my borough says 'we need to put the citizen at the heart of the x' that usually means that we need to patronise a little and then ignore. There's no mechanisms or culture within the civil service, politics or, indeed, academia for genuine and honest engagement. The result [and I can see it around me, as write] is anger, cynicism and anomie, since citizens [or consumers, as one prefers to call them now] have pretty good intuitions about how they're being dealt with. On the other side of the argument, cities are a 'wicked' problem in the classic sense that do not respond to single, linear policy measures.

As to demonstrators, I'd personally start with a 'utopia framing' project, spend a little money asking a large number of citizens [including children, especially] in a city, detailed questions about how they would actually like to live in the future, given some of the constraints. That's what an evolved society with a democratic government is meant to deliver.

As to the smart meters further down, thus far they have been organised to deliver benefits [and almost certainly demand pricing, to be feared] to the energy suppliers only. The last specification I read didn't have consumer-side ethernet with a data stream, just a toy, token LCD display to decipher the increasingly complex and predatory tarification.
Posted on 21/05/12 06:46 in reply to Scott Cain.
Hi Richard,

Cities have always been contested spaces and complex agglomerations.... No two cities are the same either- geography and culture see to that. Its really important that we don't just measure the measurable - but the unmeasurable too - simplifying the problem does not provide better answers. We have a wicked problem: there is no one simple answer to cities, so we need a place-based analysis to each that creates new solutions that are right for that city.

Thus the most important research will be that which makes the unmeasurable more quantifiable, which may seem difficult at present.

In the end we will need a biodiverse range of cities in the UK, with complex geographies, which hedge our bets for the differing futures that may be ahead, not a single static solution of generic answers, however convenient that may be for us to think.
Posted on 07/06/12 23:10.
Steve - I would agree that it is essential to account for the social side of sustainability, and our Future Cities Catapult plans will try to cover it.
However, I am interested in your point about fuel poverty. The official statistics seem to show that in 2010 the areas of highest fuel powerty were all rural and the lowest urban­-poverty-stats-2012.pdf.
Do you have any references for your comment on urban fuel poverty. It would be an important point.
Posted on 11/06/12 15:30 in reply to Steve Turner.
Richard - just sharing this link to an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Report in Glasgow (2012) around fuel poverty in case of any use. It illustrates rising fuel poverty in Scotland from 2002 and although it doesn't offer an urban/ rural split, there is specific mention that Glasgow's fuel poverty is as high as the average.­5e2785d2db/SCC_Glasgow_Final_Report.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=4882240041249cdaacf5­ed5e2785d2db

Think the source data comes from the Scottish House Condition Survey:

Hugh - we are looking for some strong examples of the genuine and honest engagement that you refer to (definitely rather than the patronising and ignoring kind) - do you know of any good UK case studies around engagement that you could share?

Thanks - Pippa
Posted on 04/08/14 16:31.

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