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Building a better Britain

EY has recently launched a new report that forms part of its Building Future Britain campaign

Amanda Clack, strong leadership and vision are required for smart cities
Amanda Clack, strong leadership and vision are required for smart cities

Last year EY launched its Building Future Britain campaign, based on the company’s purpose of building a better working world.


As part of this initiative, it is publishing several reports, the first of which was entitled Intelligent Client: How can strategic sponsorship deliver improved outcomes in complex infrastructure programmes? with the second in the series, and the focus of this interview, being: Future Cities: Is the path to future growth through smart infrastructure? a supportive enabling document for clients looking to take the journey towards smartness.


SmartCitiesWorld (SCW) caught up with the globe-trotting Amanda Clack, UK&I Head of Infrastructure Advisory at EY, and RICS President, to talk about this report and the challenges and opportunities facing UK cities.


SCW: What would you say the challenges facing UK cities are, and are these particular to the UK, or are these issues that are universally faced?


Amanda Clack: It’s all of the above, but to give some context to this, currently 54 per cent of the world’s population live in cities. If you look at places like Canada and the US, it’s 80 per cent plus. Those stats are going to increase because as the world’s population is set to rise to 9 billion by 2050, 66 per cent of us (or 6.6 billion) are likely to be living in cities. That really starts to manifest itself when you look at cities like Shanghai for example, which has a population of 24 million and is on a parallel with a nation like Australia. You’ve literally got cities taking on nations.


By 2020, 13 out of the 14 of the world’s new megacities, which are cities with a population of more than 10 million, are expected to be in China. Bringing that back to a UK context, London is really our only megacity but when you start to look at initiatives like Scotland’s smart Cities Alliance, the Midlands Engine and the Northern Powerhouse, they will need closer collaboration if they are to be economically competitive globally instead of having individual agendas.


I think the smart cities programme in Scotland is a really great example. You’ve got the chairmanship shared between Edinburgh and Glasgow and seven cities are each working on different agendas such as knowledge sharing and data sharing, and the eighth city is a collaboration of them all. It’s these sorts of initiatives that we should be thinking about.


SCW: This touches on our next question about strategies and solutions required to tackle these challenges.


AC: I think this question is worth pausing on when you look at the whole city agenda and what’s really important. Firstly, you’ve got to have strong leadership. Then, it’s about having a really clear vision for the city. You also need to build in good governance to enable that vision to be realised. But this has to be done with the city users and city citizens.


We’ve got to work with the city inhabitants, so that they get a chance to help shape their city. You can’t do this in isolation as you also need to take a longer-term view. Singapore is often quoted as the ultimate successful city as they’ve taken and delivered on a 30-year perspective. And I think from a UK perspective, that is where the National infrastructure Commission really comes to the fore in terms of both taking that longer term view, and also how infrastructure can help cities to flourish.


SCW: Would you say there is enough skill, vision and talent around municipal leadership to create transformation and to take citizens with them. Is this something that we need to be looking at as a country to increase that level of leadership?


AC: Definitely! I think that’s where being an Intelligent Client is really important because for me it’s not about what you may want to achieve in your term of office, but what legacy you’re going to create for that city to earn its place on the world stage for the next 150 years.


We quite often talk about a new Industrial Revolution today. This is the most amount of money being spent on infrastructure in the UK since the Victorian times so we really need to be thinking about what kind of legacy we will be creating for future generations.


City leaders need to ensure they have the best advice to help them now in developing the right level of leadership and transformation that is required, plus they need to not be parochial but collaborative within their city and also with other cities.


SCW: How key is devolution in this new wave of thinking?


AC: I think it’s really key as city leaders need to work with local communities to understand what they want. Think global but act local is the ultimate perspective – taking the best of what is evident in cities from around the world but translating this to be relevant in the local context. This means being mindful of social-economic, culture, economy, demographics and the political context. Larry Summers entitled this “Responsible Nationalism” – local first but then international connectivity. So, it is also about cities collaborating with each other sharing ideas, information and data.


Infrastructure is a key economic enabler that can attract businesses to a devolved region alongside the Industrial Strategy. If you’ve got businesses coming through and paying local taxes, you can then start to invest in social infrastructure which drives the housing agenda which in turn, grows cities. It’s like a virtuous circle that has to come together and I think that really plays well into the regional agenda.


SCW: You are part of the 100 Resilient Cities platform. What does resilience mean in practical terms to smart cities undergoing transformation?


AC: Urban resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.

Resilience depends on your city. Christchurch in New Zealand under their Mayor, Lianne Dalziel, are really driving innovation and design to withstand future earthquakes as they build their city around resilience.


New York is also building city resilience particularly around the potential for terror attacks and flooding risks downtown. For them, it’s about improving the quality of life for citizens and also recognising specific terror and flooding risks, which is a different type of city resilience.


From a UK perspective we have to think about it in the context of future-proofing cities ensuring that they are sustainable for the future and can compete on a global platform. That could be everything from technology through to innovation, digital, Internet of Things, cyber-attacks, thinking about how people can use a city in the future and also protecting cities against risks such as flooding.


SCW: At a recent conference we attended, a delegate was talking about how cities are older than countries, and that they have the opportunity to create solutions to problems we face on a global scale. How far would you concur with that?


AC: Cities have been incredibly resilient, so if you look at the UK and our core city structures, it’s very much focused around the original key Roman settlements and how they’ve evolved and developed over time.

London is a really great example as it’s continually reinventing itself. Developed cities are almost both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity because you have constraints that you’ve got to work within, particularly around transport and utilities. This constraining factor, if used effectively, can actually drive future development.



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