Cities of 2100
What will the city of the 22nd Century look like? According to the United Nations, 54 percent of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, and by 2050 that number is expected to reach 66 percent and continue to climb. So how will these ever more-populated cities function, and how might artificially-intelligent buildings help? Georgia Mills spoke to Mike Pitts, interim challenge director at Innovate U.K…
Mike - Cities of the future are going to become more and more important. They’re important now; we’re becoming more and more an urban species. And the reason is in cities we have higher GDP, we have lower carbon footprint so cities of the future will manage a lot of the downsides while keeping those upsides. The kind of down sides we want to improve are the things like physical and mental health issues we have in cities, the environmental side of things, and also the way we manage our cities, so cities of the future will be greener. We know that there’s a lot of relationship between green space and our physical and mental health. And we also know we’ll have to be able to manage our infrastructure better in the future, so our infrastructure will be smarter. Buildings will generate their own energy and the city itself will work on what’s holistically almost like an organism.
Georgia - You’re painting a good picture there so how will it work like an organism? How will things be connected?
Mike - What we’re doing more and more is kind of connecting our physical and our digital worlds. So things like the internet are things where we’re adding a digital layer on top of all objects either through senses or plugging more and more of our devices into the internet connecting them all up. They’re all collecting the information we need to be able to visualise the city and perfect kind of duplicate in a digital world. It’s almost like a matrix and that’s (01.18) we’re calling a digital twin and from that we can control the city better. We can control the flows of everything; all the services the city is there to provide to citizens even down to things like health. The city can monitor you and kind of nudge you in the right direction and perhaps it will encourage you to do more walking.
Georgia - The internet thing is something that’s around now and people are connecting things up in their house to the internet, but would this be on a larger scale in the future with things like buildings talking to each other?
Mike - Absolutely. Buildings of the future will be generating their own energy. They’ll also be doing a lot of things we want them to do: cleaning water and managing waste. And it will be kind of trading these flows of materials whether that’s electricity or heat, or waste, or water between them. That’s aware that something's been produced so wastewater coming out a building going into somewhere that needs it. That’ll be optimised across all sorts of systems like transport and health and that should free up us humans to do the more human jobs.
Georgia - When you say they’ll generate their own energy, in what kind of way might they do this?
Mike - Have all sorts of technology embedded into the fabric buildings. So everything from photovoltaic routes to facades on buildings that draw in heat from the air and can store it. But it’s as much about managing things like heating and cooling as it is about electricity.
Georgia - Right. So there could be one building in the sun getting lots of energy from solar power and the building next to it is in the shade but trying to get a lot done? So the building can say hey, do you want some energy and just sort of send it over?
Mike - Exactly. Or a data centre generating a lot and trying to get rid of a lot of heat very quickly and we can move that out of heat networks to buildings who need heat or, more and more in the future, where we need cooling.
Georgia - You mentioned they’ll be more green spaces so how will our future cities be more environmentally friendly, more sustainable?
Mike - We’ll have to build in more and more green spaces. We know it’s so important to mental health but it’s also really important to things like managing pollution. And the urban heat island effect, so this challenge we have in built up areas where the city itself can be up to eight degrees warmer than the surrounding hinterland because of the way infrastructure absorbs heat in the day and reflects it back at night, and that’s mitigated by things like green space.
So we’ll see more and more green space as we manage our transport and resource flows better. All of space is taken up with the services in the city can be turned back over to green space.
Georgia - You paint a lovely picture here - everything’s greener, everything’s smarter, we’re a lot more efficient with everything. Is this what think the future will be like or what you think it should be like?
Mike - We very think this is the way the future is going. The kind of work I do in Innovate UK with the industrial strategy these are the kinds of ideas and things that businesses are working on now. But what’s going to be really important in the future is the cities that will survive are the ones that manage social interaction well. Social interaction drives a lot of the benefits in cities. Strong culture, strong innovation is what really brings the value to cities and why people want to live there, so the cities that do that best are going to be be ones that really survive and thrive in the future.