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Future city living in the spotlight

Cash from fossil fuels, conversely, is once again proving a driver for ambitious green projects in the Middle East.

A new residential city housing 160,000 in Dubai promises to be totally self-sufficient in energy, transport and resources – something its wealthy backers claim is a world first. It’s part of an attempt to take Dubai as a whole into the world’s top ten sustainable cities by 2020.

The details are a little thin at the moment, but solar PV on all roofs and tens of thousands of cubic metres of waste water to be recycled sound like positive starting points.

The smart city concept is far from being just something on the agenda of oil-rich nations far away. For an example closer to home, look no further than Birmingham. The city has launched a ‘Smart City Roadmap’ for a three-year programme of work to enhance connectivity and improve access to data.  These are the fundamentals that you need in place to integrate your energy, waste and transport management.

The Birmingham strategy acknowledges the increasing urbanisation of populations, predicting a 150,000 population increase over the next couple of decades. Increased access to information on everything from energy, to real-time transport to health options is something that promises much for a growing transition to city living.

But a key question that surely must be at the heart of all discussions on the cities of the future is to ask if these will be nice places to live. It’s certainly a question at the forefront of the mind of Gary Graham from the University of Leeds – who has voiced concern that human interests could be subsumed by “digital enslavement” and branding opportunities for tech companies at the heart of the new urban environments.

A study led by Graham in Boston has suggested that while people are positive about technologies assisting city life, they are less so about them leading to meaningful social or economic change.

Those taking part in the study were also worried that in the push towards technological advancement, other attractive qualities in places to live like the natural environment, history and legacy might be shunted aside. On a positive note, though, the study did highlight that green issues are high up on the agenda for Bostonians:

A key message was that people needed to start living smarter, cleaner and more efficiently now if their grandchildren were to inherit a comparable or better Boston in 2037...They all wanted something similar to what they have now but with eco-friendly modifications such as better provision for cyclists and a looped rail network like those found in London and Paris.”

If the thinking of Boston is reflected across the cities of the globe, there is hope that ‘smart’ will truly be smart – moving forward while keeping humans at the heart of the modern metropolis.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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