Cristiano Radaelli, Planet Smart City, looks at the role of sustainable, tech-enabled housing in future cities.
Over the past decade, several global trends have combined to drive noticeable shifts in how people live.
These include the increasing urbanisation of global populations; the introduction of artificial intelligence, robotics and IoT devices; environmental factors; population growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America; and the rising purchasing power of the middle classes within developing countries.
A 2015 United Nations (UN) report noted that 68 per cent of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050, up from 55 per cent today. The research showed that the gradual shift of populations from rural to urban areas, combined with population growth, will see an additional 2.5 billion people living in cities by 2050.
Almost 90 per cent of this increase will occur in Asia and Africa, according to the UN. By 2050, urban populations in India, China and Nigeria are expected to increase by 416 million, 255 million and 189 million respectively.
This breadth and pace of change is unprecedented and the rise of technologies, especially artificial intelligence, have the potential to significantly improve quality of life for millions.
However, the development of this technology must be guided by strong values and principles that direct the way it is applied and implemented. We must not miss the opportunity to harness these technologies for the benefit of humanity, and there are a number of ways we can ensure this.
Firstly, any technological evolution should be approached with humanity in mind, using AI and algorithms to develop decision-making and forecasting processes to complement human creativity or reduce margin of error.
Secondly, AI developments must guarantee widespread trust in the correct use of data and personal information. Data usage is now highly scrutinised – there is a need for proper data governance and it is no longer enough to remain vague on the topic. Consumers and regulators demand transparency and data governance, and this focus is only likely to increase.
Consumers and regulators demand transparency and data governance, and this focus is only likely to increase.
Finally, privacy is a fundamental human right that must be guaranteed when providing digital services.
All these changes and challenges intersect in an area which is set to become more and more important for our communities and environment as time goes on: the construction of the cities of the future.
Whether this is building new cities or redesigning current ones, people on all continents want to live in cities that place care for the environment, sustainability, safety and quality of life at their core.
Centuries ago, the birth and development of municipalities created conditions for the development of humanism and of the Renaissance. Now, in the era of AI, the creation of sustainable housing solutions, made by placing human beings at their centre, is fundamental to managing the social impact of the changes we are experiencing and which will take even more profound forms in the coming years.
This means harnessing the power of technology to enrich and simplify the lives of the tens of millions of people who over the coming years will need homes in countries of high population growth. In future cities, digital infrastructure is the enabler, providing new services to support the creation and activation of community life, bringing greater inclusivity and social wellbeing, enabling the sharing of spaces and resources, and providing a green and sustainable environment. People today, regardless of their home country and socioeconomic status, are looking not only for spaces in which to live but increasingly for places where key services will be available.
Digital apps and services can also be used to help and encourage residents to reduce their environmental impact. For example, on an apartment- or house-level, we can implement digital tools that enhance residents’ awareness of their energy consumption. This is the first step to sustainable living and reducing consumption. If a resident sees how much money they spend per day, they are likely to reduce it as much as they can by switching off appliances where possible – particularly if they are provided with mobile technology to remotely manage their usage.
Digital apps and services can also be used to help and encourage residents to reduce their environmental impact.
Also, at district-level, through the use of AI and big data, we can better manage energy usage across a wide number of houses, which can then be used to negotiate better contracts for residents, saving them money on their day-to-day living. This technology also supports, for example, the design of electrical grids according to the real requirements of residents.
Fundamentally, affordable housing, underpinned by digital services, is an effective solution for meeting the needs of residents whilst also promoting a greener, more inclusive and economically viable way of living for future generations.
The technology that can be implemented isn’t just exclusive to developing countries and new-builds. During brownfield projects in developed countries, it is possible to implement new design concepts and technological solutions that add immense value and are widely appreciated by residents for the improvements they deliver to their day-to-day life.
Integrating digital technologies into the towns and cities of the future can also provide a vital tool in supporting social inclusion, overcoming illiteracy and bridging the digital divide – all major issues for societies around the world.
In conclusion, cities underpinned by community-centric technological solutions are an important political project to pursue. Our ability to positively change the way of living for a community whilst generating economic savings and promoting growth will be the key to creating a more positive future for all.
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