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Middle East  
 
 

FUTURE CITIES – HOW MUCH IS IN OUR HANDS?

The trend towards urbanisation means that our cities need to become smarter to cope with increasing populations. Middle East Head of Transport Planning Baz Gharibi says transport planners have a key role in creating & connecting tomorrow’s cities.

 

The city of the future brings to mind an image of a highly technologically advanced environment with driverless cars zooming past and intelligent machines managing daily chores in silent synchronisation. Urban areas, including Dubai are indeed consistently moving towards the concept of “smart”. Cities are exploring all avenues to utilise technology either it through the vast amounts of information that can be used for better decision making or through the interconnectivity that is possible between different systems- such as connecting mobile phones with GPS for real time mapping services.

This move towards “smart” makes a lot of sense, considering the challenges that the future holds for cities.  United Nations estimates that nearly all population growth over the next 15 years will be in the cities.  This unprecedented level of urbanisation will place a lot of burden on the limited natural resources of a city such as food or energy needs as well as on the physical infrastructure. Not to forget, the onslaught of waste and pollution that comes along with population and development growth.

Technology can help achieve greater efficiency of resources, maximise the capacity of existing infrastructure and at the same time make living easier for its residents. In essence, technology is a one of the pillars that supports “sustainability”. It also opens opportunities for people to collaborate and engage for problem-solving. Community based initiatives such as peer to peer ride-sharing is one such example that increases citizen mobility and transport choices.

As transportation planners, we are key stakeholders in the future of our cities and its transportation infrastructure. Our role goes beyond developing conventional solutions such as building new roads - we are here to bring the innovation and take the current transport management systems to another level.  Some of the changes we will see include an increase in mobility management –from developing mobile apps that enable better transport choices to implementing remote working policies that reduce commuter trips from the road – as well as Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) for example smart traffic signal systems that optimise green times and improve street mobility.

There are just a few of the alternative solutions or innovations that will become more commonplace and should be considered when planning and designing for the future. But technology, progressive policy or advanced implementation methods are essentially remedial in nature. We can do our bit to prevent the need for additional infrastructure – by redefining the pattern of our developments so that we create mixed-use neighbourhoods and walkable communities which reduce the need to travel in the first place.

Technology brings with it a tremendous amount of data which our industry can effectively analyse to understand our complex and dynamic infrastructure systems and forecast problems much in advance. Data analytics and modelling will therefore continue to be a prime skillset to have. We can fast-track our progress by collaborating with researchers and universities to implement the advances that are fresh out of the laboratory.

More importantly, we will increasingly have to take up the role of educating and building awareness within the wider industry, clients and the community regarding the challenges that the future holds, as well as the vast spectrum of solutions that can be developed to address these. It is only with partnership that a vision for a better living environment can be achieved.