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Expert Insight

Building Cities of Tomorrow Through Innovation

By Dr. Anas Bataw, Director – Centre of Excellence in Smart Construction (CESC) at Heriot-Watt University Dubai

With the overall growth of the world’s population, the move to cities will add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050, increasing the proportion of the population living in urban areas from the current 55 per cent to 68 per cent. This puts an additional focus on the need for better-embedded advancements and innovations to manage the growth in the city-dwelling population.


Constant innovation is key to building future-forward, resilient, and sustainable cities. Innovative technological advancements such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), geospatial technology, and blockchain are key in building the cities of tomorrow.

Furthermore, for cities, innovations are not only technological advancements that need to be addressed. People centricity, sustainability, recreational needs are all key to building the cities of tomorrow. Therefore, there is a need for a blended approach that brings the best of digitalisation and optimal human-based actions, including enhanced government and people interactions, coming together of providers, and more.

Data as a Service

A city’s digital transformation strategy needs to continuously collect and analyse data from various sources to improve the efficacy of data-gathering technologies used. Moreover, as cities grow and flourish, they’re faced with interoperability issues of the various technologies, communication transmission protocols, and architectures developed by multiple vendors. An innovation or technology that is working towards minimising this is utilising data as a service (DaaS). DaaS addresses the challenge of wide-ranging interconnections and methods supporting smart city implementations through a collaborative environment. Data can provide the most important insights that are helpful for city councils and developers.

15-Minute City

Moving on to urban development, a city’s infrastructure also plays a major role in building smart cities. The 15-minute city concept is one such innovation that has been developed, keeping in mind the need of residents. A 15-Minute City is a residential urban concept in which either walking or cycling can accomplish most daily tasks from residents’ homes. The functions that need to be catered to by the concept include living, working, commerce, healthcare, education, recreation and entertainment with a travel time of a quarter of an hour. is also an example of people-centered innovation, showcasing the need to explore development based on the needs of the inhabitants.

Agricultural Innovations
Agricultural sustainability is an important factor while thinking of the future of cities. With the population influx and the need for self-sufficiency and food security, agriculture plays an important role. Technologies such as sensors can monitor plant growth under different conditions allowing bio-scientists to create treatments to minimise using toxic pesticides and fertilisers. Furthermore, resource optimisation is also extremely important in ensuring agricultural security. Drones and satellites give farmers thorough data about every part of their operation, including soil moisture, nutrition levels, salinity, harvest data, among others.

Transportation and Mobility

Transportation and other matters related to it, including traffic and signals, is another major area of focus while developing smart cities. Starting with pollution, IoT based sensors can help detect and monitor air pollutants and report increase in pollution. Wireless Sensor Networks can be implemented in buses and bus stops, metros and private vehicles and scooters to monitor emissions while also understanding how to make them more energy-efficient. Reducing congestion, ensuring fast response to incidents, expanding road infrastructure capacity, and reducing carbon footprint are some of the crucial factors for today’s cities that aim to achieve a more connected, resilient, and sustainable transport ecosystem.

A study by McKinsey estimates that the world’s top 100 cities will account for 35 percent of global GDP growth between now and 2025. Thus showcasing the significant contributions, they will have to the global markets. Therefore, the future of cities should be embedded in sustainable expansion and researched innovation.

In the UAE, smart city initiatives such as Masdar City in Abu Dhabi and Sustainable City in Dubai are key examples of the efforts the nation is making in innovating cities for the people. In fact, the future is even more promising. In Dubai, the Expo 2020 site will be converted into a smart city post the six month event. District 2020 will be created by preserving 80 per cent of the Expo 2020 Dubai development and making it into a technologically enabled sustainable way of urban community living. It will be further transformed to include residential areas, green spaces, co-working spots, R&D and smart mobility.

With Expo 2020’s urban and rural development theme of this week, it is indeed an opportune time to look at enhancing innovations to cater to smart cities and build connected and secure communities.


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