Building future cities and communities: Converting digitalisation into value

future cities and communities

Emilia Cardamone, programme manager for digital construction at BSI Group and a member of Women in BIM, discusses how we can move beyond a tech-only approach to build sustainable, resilient cities and communities of the future

The United Nations has estimated that today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. This means that people are currently moving from rural to urban areas very quickly and we need cities and communities to address new challenges such as sustainability, accessibility, new ways of commuting and healthcare, for example.

The rise of new technologies such as IoT, artificial intelligence and 5G is creating enormous expectation as to what future cities and communities can offer. However, in order to ensure that digital technologies deliver on these expectations, it is vital to adopt a citizen-centric approach that builds a strong and resilient strategy for cities and communities’ managers, as well as a place that attracts people, businesses and investors. Having in place numerous emerging technologies in the cities not always deliver the outcomes expected.

These new challenges are important for the public sector that want to create a clear strategy but also the private sector, developing the living and workplaces of the future.

As with any other strong business, a vision, a roadmap and a strategy are vital to the success of an organisation. In the same way, this approach can be taken by cities and communities all over the world. But can standards help?

Smart cities vs future cities

In short, yes, most definitely! The standards landscape reflects the idea that each city has a different vision for a smart, sustainable transformation, which might result in varying levels of engagement. There are multiple entry points to the use of standards in this field but predominantly the advised approach is to start with a vision, set up a strategy, adopt a holistic planning approach, set how to use data effectively and choose the right technology.

For example, ISO 37106 gives guidance on establishing a city’s unique strategy. It puts the citizen at the centre, helping cities and communities manage their digital assets to create effective services and deliver change. Together with this, ISO 37101 management system for sustainable development can be used in order to set up six purposes of sustainability and can be used as management system for a city or a community in order to consider and prioritise any possible action.

The term “Smart Cities” can often be challenged and might be replaced by “Future City” instead, a wider term that we can use in order to include other factors than technology, including sustainability and resilience.

What impresses me the most at this stage is that we are finally not only talking about technology, but we are also taking into consideration these other two factors as key enabler of a wider strategy that deliver better outcomes and services to the citizens.

The European Commission is now talking about Industry 5.0, “complementing the ‘Industry 4.0’ approach by specifically putting research and innovation at the service of the transition to a sustainable, human-centric and resilient European industry”. Furthermore, in Japan, the government is talking about Society 5.0, considering a “human-centred society”.

Technology can be seen as the vehicle that delivers better results for sustainability purposes, for example. A traffic sensor can allow low emissions of carbon or the analysis of Big Data around GHG emissions and can be reflected in a wider strategy within a city. In that sense, sensors and IoT devices can play a vital role in changing the future cities.

Various performances related to transport, for example, including security and water management can be better measured nowadays through the use of IoT devices. The utilisation of these devices could easily be part of a wider strategy that enables organisations and cities to deliver more and more ad hoc solutions to the citizens.

These solutions might be related to predictive use of data, as well as to the actual performance data. Depending on if you are a citizen, a user of a community or a community manager you could link these data in predicting what can happen, or even use it as a service. But how can we bring everything together?

The short answer to this is that for a successful smart community, collaboration at all levels is the key. Whether you are a user, a community manager or a solution provider, it’s vital that a strong stakeholder engagement piece is at the centre of your plans to ensure that collaboration at all levels is in place. We can see this trend being in place in every digital transformation piece in the built environment and the cities could be the best workshop location to pursue better collaboration and achieve the best results for everyone.

In conclusion, where are we going next? So much has been done already in moving towards a future-ready city approach, but there is still more to achieve. Moving away from a tech-only approach and considering sustainability and resilience at the heart of why a city should be smart is key, especially after the learnings of COP26. We have the strength to do so and with increasing levels of collaboration, we will make our cities future ready.


future cities and communities
Emilia Cardamone

Emilia Cardamone

Programme manager, digital construction

BSI Group




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here