Commentary

What will a successful place look like in 2030?

City planners and developers have much to consider as the built environment evolves

October 07, 2021
Contributors:
  • Cameron Ramsey

Debate continues around the future of our cities and the changing mix of uses within them. Despite recent disruption, office and retail units remain dominant in most urban centres. But these are being adapted for other uses and new living solutions are being tested. At the same time, urban logistics and life sciences activities are expanding. But that’s just the start: there are multiple factors at play for city planners and developers over the coming decade. Here are three we think will be prominent.

Sustainability

As many developers and municipal governments make ambitious commitments to reduce their carbon footprint, measures to improve energy efficiency, cut waste and recycle are becoming commonplace. We’ll see more onsite micro-renewable energy generation, such as solar and wind power. There’s scope to incorporate smart roads and rail to harvest energy as they are used.

Refurbishing and repurposing of existing buildings – real estate’s version of recycling – will account for a much greater share of developer activity, as the demolition and construction of new buildings is a huge contributor to emissions – embodied carbon is responsible for 11 percent of global emissions, and each year more than six billion square metres of buildings are constructed using carbon intensive materials such as glass, iron, steel and concrete.

The focus on emissions will evolve too: increased biodiversity, wildlife conservation, cutting light and noise pollution, to name but a few, will be core attributes of future sustainability strategies.

Health & Wellbeing

The importance of health and wellbeing – and how our environment impacts our lifestyle – will be central to the design of a successful place. Real estate developments of the future will undoubtedly include higher proportions of green space, and not just at ground level. Living walls and green roofs will become ever more popular, helping us stay close to nature. Light-, water-, and air-quality must also be factored into considerations of how the build environment affects physical and mental health.

Successful places will also include plenty of opportunity for movement and leisure activity: more gyms, yoga studios and climbing walls like 22 Bishopsgate in London will pop up in modern spaces, likely sitting alongside healthy eating options. Self-locomotion, such as walking, running, and cycling routes, will be incorporated more widely than today. Interest in the concept of the 15-minute city is growing rapidly.

Transport infrastructure

Improvements to public transport are greatly needed in many cities, but these can be very slow to develop. In the shorter term, greater provision of car, bike, and scooter sharing schemes will improve accessibility and reduce reliance on private vehicles and public transport. For those remaining, electric, hybrid and even hydrogen-powered vehicles will tip from unconventional to mainstream use over the coming decades. Electric vehicle charging infrastructure will be a common feature of city centres by 2030. Investment is needed now to boost EV and hybrid sales from the 15 percent they accounted for in the UK in first five months of 2021.

More radical options are attracting investment too, for example autonomous urban aircrafts – or drone taxis. The first urban air hub is due to open in Coventry this year as many developers approach operational launch. Significant regulatory and social barriers remain, but if adoption is successful this could change the shape of our cities forever, with road networks gradually phased out for more space-efficient concentric patterns.

We are in a rare moment when the opportunity, inclination and technology needed for significant change are all in place. We must embrace the evolution of our built environment.