“Cities are all different and we need to embrace that difference”

Mike Haigh, chair of the World Economic Forum’s Infrastructure Industries Governors and former CEO of Mott MacDonald, speaking at the FIDIC Global Infrastructure Conference session on "The Role of Future Cities" on 13 September 2022.

Diverse issues to address and multiple stakeholders, makes for complex challenges for cities in addressing climate change.

“There is a clear necessity to consider infrastructure in all its forms when we consider our how global cities work and operate,” said Mike Haigh, chair of the World Economic Forum’s Infrastructure Industries Governors and former CEO of Mott MacDonald, speaking at a FIDIC Global Infrastructure Conference session on The Role of Future Cities on 13 September 2022.

Haigh said that it was important to recognise that all cities were not the same and that their differences need to be embraced. Inequality and exclusion needed to be tackled to create a more equal and accessible society and the infrastructure sector could support that by having stations as community hubs, for example. It’s about people and people are different, he said.

“These differences also apply to infrastructure investment and we can learn from public-private initiatives around the world and also the different stages that cities are at with their technology journeys,” Haigh said.

Highlighting the importance of collaboration, Haigh concluded his keynote address by saying: “It’s about the right people, asking the right people, the right questions on the key issues that matter.”

Speaking at the session via a recorded video message, Sylvester Turner, the Mayor of Houston, highlighted the importance of international collaboration between cities and also local collaboration between partners and stakeholders. “Our cities are systems not silos and I am proud of the excellent work being done by our Resilient Cities Network,” said Turner.

The network is the world’s leading urban resilience network which brings together global knowledge, practice, partnerships and funding to empower its members to build safe and equitable cities for all.

Appearing by live link from Dubai, Greg Clark, chair of the Connected Places Catapult, agreed with Mike Haigh that all cities were different. He highlighted ‘urban transition’ as a concept where a clean city was created which helped to support public health as well as tackling climate change.

Referring to bridging the investment gap across cities in the world, Clark said: “In the long term, we need to improve the fiscal and financial capability of our cities by taking a blended approach which improves the quality and consistency of propositions brought forward by cities. We also need to develop public-private models to derisk investment and the business models to support that.”

Abimbola Oladeinde, commissioner for transportation at the Lagos State Ministory of Transportation, highlighted the data gap around transport and decarbonisation and said that this needed to be addressed in order to interpret information to build resilience. It was also crucial to have a legal framework to support this so people could adapt to change and better enable the move to a low carbon future,” he said.

The role of digital twins was highlighted by Richard Vestner, senior director at Bentley Systems. “Digital twins are the next generation of the technical drawing and they can offer engineers a seat at the table as cities need this information in an accessible format,” he said.

Twins enabled an open data transfer that can be used by multiple users and systems and they really do promote collaboration across the whole industry,” Vestner explained. Bentley’s collaborative tools were making a key difference to clients and supporting collaboration on a worldwide scale, he said.

According to Estelle Monod, building segments president and senior VP for digital energy strategy at Schneider Electric, buildings needed to work for the people that use them.

She cited the example of her company’s work in Grenoble in France where they had worked on sustainable buildings which really worked for their users by a collaborative process in their development and the building ecosystem that ran them. Monod also spoke about the importance of decarbonising the data centre sector and Schneider Electric was working with many leading providers to do just that.

Gulnara Roll, regional advisor for the forests, land and housing division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, said that bringing creative solutions was not enough – it was also important to engage politically with cities and analyse what was needed for urban economic and climate resilience. “Without data you cannot hope to find the right solutions and this needs to be shared across multiple stakeholders,” she said.

Given the fact that it’s estimated that 60% of global carbon emissions stem from major capital cities due to urbanisation, this high-level panel discussion comprising key city specialists and consulting experts from the industry, couldn’t have been more important when considering how we ensure that the world hits its net zero targets.