Smart cities are gaining traction in the Middle East, but creating a future-proof master plan to design, build, and retrofit the urban world is a challenge. Hamed Zaghw, chief executive officer of Aecom, said planning is key to ensuring that the evolutionary nature of technology does not render long-term smart city initiatives in the Middle East obsolete.
“There are two ways to look at smart city master planning – the micro and the macro. If you have a framework that is both environmental and urban, you can have a basis for a master plan that can survive the ages – and changes in technology.
"Smart cities are an evolutionary process," he continued. "Now, we are talking about data and connectivity, and other aspects of sustainability. And if it is founded on the right principles, you can achieve that goal. But if you do not have the overall government framework, it can be somewhat chaotic.”
Cities will come under pressure due to urbanisation, creating sustainability and efficiency challenges for social infrastructure, according to the panellists at the CW: Leaders in Construction Summit UAE 2018.
Urbanisation and technology present both threats and opportunities, said Gregg Welch, senior vice president at Parsons. “We like to talk about smart cities being smart ecosystems, which is not only about technology; technology is just the enabler to allow smart cities and smart ecosystems to go where they need to go.
“If you look at the Smart Dubai charter, the key [to smart cities] is the happiness of the individuals," he added. "It is fortuitous that, as the urbanisation that is taking place across the planet over the next 20 years occurs, the technology that will help cities with that is in sync with being able to deal with large numbers of people.”
As technology giants such as Google and Microsoft flex their muscles in the smart city space, Chris Seymour, managing director for the Middle East at Mott MacDonald, warned they could replace the main contractor, making building firms a sub-contractor.
Aecom's Zaghw agreed, adding: “Google is trying to build a whole smart city in Toronto, [Canada]. That is really transforming the entire landscape, as a high-tech company is taking the lead in the engineering and urban planning of the whole life cycle of the city."