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Last edited 11 Nov 2020
Smart cities design timeframe
Smart cities optimise the use of technology in the design and operation of infrastructure and buildings in a way which meets the current and future needs of their citizens. Truly smart cities should be about more than just harnessing technology; they require consideration of governance and growth, urban development and infrastructure, the environment and natural resources, society and community. (Ref Buro Happold: Defining and benchmarking SMART cities)
As urbanisation increases and technologies that offer the opportunity to improve city efficiency and quality of life come on stream at an accelerating rate, so it becomes necessary to ensure that cities are both future-proofed and flexible. The impact of climate change brings in an additional layer of complexity with the need for both resilience and adaptability. These competing demands make it difficult to establish a single timeframe for the design of smart cities.
In its simplest sense, sustainable development means ensuring that the planet is left in a good a state for future generations. As a result, the timeframe necessary to judge the sustainability of a development is a long one. This can present something of a dichotomy for practitioners charged with planning, designing and constructing (or regenerating) cities where short and medium-term goals are easier to establish and measure; especially in terms of cost and pay-back.
It is sometimes argued that longer-term interests are established by national and regional policies and strategies, but this is not always the case as the short timescales of politics and economics tend to hold more sway than the interests of future voters or shareholders.
A case in point is the UK’s much heralded National Infrastructure Plan, which in its initial form was intended to look forward a number of decades, identifying and prioritising the critical elements of infrastructure the UK would need to shape the future well-being of the country. What has actually been produced can be characterised as no more than a list of likely infrastructure projects to be delivered over the next ten years; something that addresses the current economic challenges the Government faces but does not represent effective long-term planning.
Investment in buildings should probably be viewed over a period of 40 to 50 years. However, many developers are constructing for short-term profit and then handing over buildings to asset managers for the longer term. This does not encourage a long-term view of sustainability from a construction and operational perspective.
Many major infrastructure programmes that are being undertaken today will continue to impact on the UK economy and its carbon footprint for the next 50 to 80 years, but few decisions will be made on this basis.
The rapid rate of change in the market place adds a further level of complexity. Designers need to ensure that every opportunity is taken to identify the most efficient solutions for the delivery of buildings and infrastructure. This means taking advantage of the new opportunities offered by technology. The timeframes of some hi-tech industries are measured in months or even weeks. A product may only have a shelf-life of 80 weeks before it becomes redundant and is superseded by a ‘newer and better’ solution.
Properly considering all of these competing demands requires that designers work across a number of different timescales to find solutions which capture rapid and potentially valuable advances in technology and applies them to a backbone of resilient and adaptable infrastructure capable of many years of operation without costly upgrades.
In developing solutions for smart cities, there needs to be more than just one timeframe. Technology, climate change, political cycles and many other factors are subject to rapid change, and predicting the future is extremely difficult. A better option is to develop a roadmap that focuses on short, medium and long-term strategies for sustainable, smart development.
 Short term
Short-term considerations should be relatively stable and cover a period of 2-3 years. This provides a relative degree of certainty assuming that the political climate is stable. Key focuses should be on future-proofing infrastructure, the approach to procurement strategies and the ability of the client to ensure that it has the flexibility and understanding to adopt and react to change.
 Medium term
The medium term can look forward 5 to 10 years. Solutions proposed, business plans and drivers may change but the future-proofed infrastructure and procurement strategies adopted in the short-term plan should be able to accommodate them.
 Long term
- What is the city aiming to be?
- What are its goals and objectives?
- What is its overall strategy for achieving this?
The client has to be able to subscribe to long-term asset development and optimisation of value; simply focussing on the short-term and medium will not maximise the whole life-cycle ROI (return on investment) potential or the opportunity to ensure the city remains sustainable for its inhabitants. The overall framework and underpinning strategies then need to be revisited on a periodic basis to ensure they remain relevant and fit-for-purpose and are adapting appropriately to external drivers and indicators.
This article was created by --Buro Happold 19/4/2013
A note from the authors:
Smart Cities is an arena of topicality and no little importance. With the demographic shifts taking place globally, the impact of climate change and the volatility of resource demand and production, the need for a focus on the planning, design and delivery of 'sustainable' urban development has never been so great. The appropriate application of emerging technologies offers some hope of achieving greater efficiencies in the way cities operate and citizens live their lives. But too often the focus of the debate is lost. Technology and ‘smartness’ needs to be taken in context – they are another layer to help improve the 'sustainability' of projects, not the answer in themselves. Buro Happold takes the position that first and foremost, urban development needs skilled and experienced teams to promote an effective 'business case' allied to first class planning and design as a prerequisite to creating successful urban space. We call this approach 'The Living City'.
- Andrew Comer , Partner and Director of Environment+Infrastructure, Buro Happold .
- Robert Moyser , Associate Director, Environment+Infrastructure, Buro Happold.
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