A recent Rushlight Built Environment Briefing, ‘Smart Urban Development’, reaffirmed my own view that facilities management holds the answers to some big global challenges, including economic resilience, human wellbeing and climate change.
I’d like to share some of that briefing’s insights, particularly from Reading University, Rushlight Events, and Innovate UK, together with my own views on how workspace strategy aligns with urban development.

Smart urban development

At the briefing, Professor Kathy Pain, Chair in Real Estate Development at the University of Reading’s Henley Business School, presented the findings from her research report, ‘Supporting Smart Urban Development: Successful Investing in Density’.
For the research, Professor Pain was commissioned to compare 63 cities by the Urban Land Institute and the Coalition for Urban Transitions. The goal was to better understand what ‘good density’ looks like, against the backdrop of the current acceleration in urbanisation.

A desirable place to live and work

In his introduction to the briefing, Clive Hall, Chief Executive of Eventure Media Ltd, explained that: “Cities provide homes for more than 50% of the population, 80% of the world economic output and 70% of all energy consumption.”
Furthermore, Professor Pain’s report, revealed that: “The world gained 77 million new urban dwellers a year between 2010 and 2015.”
With Asia and Africa accounting for 90% of global urban growth, they will certainly contribute most to this
I was also interested to learn that across the geography covered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – constituting 36 member countries – the population of over-65 year olds is likely to increase in cities from 17.1% in 2010 to 25.1% in 2050.


Population of over 65-year olds in cities by 2050

Some will say that it is simply the result of an aging society. However, this is perhaps unsurprising given that cities better cater for our health and wellbeing, while offering a more affordable life with energy efficient dwellings and accessible transport infrastructure.
I also believe that older people choose to live in cities that are emulating the model of modern workspace becoming more inclusive, allowing for several generations to live and work together in greater harmony.

An urban balancing act

Professor Pain’s research is mostly quantitative, and also focused upon investors and policymakers. Considering local authorities’ dependence on investors, and a likely trend toward Public Private Partnership, it is unsurprising that the two factions are closely linked.
From the investors’ perspective, the review shows a strong correlation between investment return and high density, as well as levels of innovation and the presence of business and financial services, and tourism.
However, a longer-term view of return on investment will require a more comprehensive consideration of governance systems designed to reduce air pollution and congestion, for example. It’s an urban balancing act, as investors will rely on public authorities to do more than nudge or to rely on the virtue of the invisible hand – the unobservable market force that helps the demand and supply of goods in a free market to reach equilibrium automatically.
In its conclusion, Professor Pain’s report states, “The overall design of the city needs to encourage walkability, provide transport links, and protect the cultural heritage, biodiversity, and ecosystems within cities.”
At a business level, employers and workspace managers are contributing positively to this trend, supporting staff with travel planning as well as developing best practice in agile working, for instance.

Smart cities and buildings on a foundation of data

Professor Pain demonstrated that the term ‘Smart Cities’ does not necessarily mean urban sprawl dominated by technology-led solutions. However, all panellists agreed that data is critical for the individual, local and global decision-making process.
Dr Mike Pitts, Interim Deputy Director for the Transforming Construction ISCF Challenge at Innovate UK, also gave some local examples of what data reveals about city challenges. Apparently 30% of Birmingham’s traffic is NHS-related, Ipswich spends two thirds of its budget on social care, and 85% of its care home residents have Alzheimer’s, while just 2500 families consume 40% of Nottingham’s resources.
Already, construction and facilities management companies are becoming smarter at integrating data in their planning. Analysis of traffic around Heathrow Airport supported the business case for the off-site construction of modules of Terminal 5. Accurate weather forecasts now determine when gritting is applied and where. Footfall analysis helps refine the requirement for front desk and janitorial services. And we use social media feeds in real time to deploy security personal in areas where they are most needed.
Clearly smart technology is transforming the dynamics of building infrastructure. However, change is being felt in the workplace too. After all, both cities and buildings exist to serve people. Therefore, the goal must be to understand individual preferences and to adapt accordingly.
Both Building Information Modelling and the retrofitting of Internet of Things sensors throughout the work environment are gradually improving productivity with predictive maintenance and more accurate space planning.

‘Smart, needs to mean ‘good.’

Data and ‘platform’ have become the key success factors for disruptors such as Uber, Amazon, Alibaba, Airbnb, JustEat and Deliveroo. The facilities management industry is also going through a transformation where only those with a platform will be able to leverage the new technological connectivity between buildings, assets, people and surrounding infrastructure.
My colleagues at Mitie have recently developed our ‘smart’ Connected Workspace offering, designed to improve the performance of buildings and the wellbeing and productivity of the people within them. The range of benefits enjoyed by building owners and users as a result include greater operational efficiencies, enhanced resilience, greater safety and security, lower running costs, enhanced asset management, and improved employee wellbeing, productivity and retention.
However, the insight created by the digital transformation of built assets and the way they are managed and monitored also reveals uncomfortable truths about the way energy is wasted. After all, according to Dr Mike Pitts, global emissions are formed of 31% building emissions, 35% industry (a large part from concrete and steel for buildings/infrastructure) and 22% transport
To conclude, understanding the urban ecosystem, where adaptable workspaces that support a range of generations, as well as the wellbeing and satisfaction of those employees, is key. Equally, data-driven, outcome-based building solutions that consider and address optimal space utilisation and sustainable energy needs, are the only way to achieve smart, sustainable ‘good density’.
The views expressed in this article are those of Franck Crosnier and not necessarily those of any of the participants of the event.

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