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The world added over 100 new cities in the last two decades. Can older cities keep up?

The problem: making all of these rapidly-growing urban areas livable – and sustainable.

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The world is seeing an explosion in urbanization. In the last two decades, more than 100 new cities have been built from the ground up in Africa and Asia, with more still under construction. Urban populations are growing at a rate of two people per second, with subsequent growth in geographical size and economic output as well. And if projections hold, the global population could rise to 10 billion people in the next 30 years, with nearly 7 billion of them living in cities. So how do we make all of these rapidly-growing urban areas livable – and sustainable?

It turns out that new cities have an advantage over older, more established cities. With new cities comes the chance to start from square one and prioritize energy efficiency and a net-zero carbon footprint. “A new city built today, of course you can put low carbon technology in right up front,” says Martin Powell, Chief Sustainability Officer of Siemens USA. “Trying to retrofit an existing city today is difficult.”

However, hope is not entirely lost for older cities to also embrace this technology. “If you can just make small improvements to our existing infrastructure, you can buy time for the longer term investments that are needed in order to deal with big threats, like rapid urbanization, climate change, significant demographic change that we’re seeing in cities, even the impacts of globalization,” says Powell.

A key component to making all our cities greener is the so-called Internet of Things: a complex network of devices and systems — connected seamless and endlessly – that, essentially, acts as a city’s brain. By embracing this digitalization and adopting tools like Siemens’ City Performance Tool, these smart cities can track key data and system information. This allows for the dynamic control over the flow of energy throughout a city, and the automation of entire buildings in order to efficiently adjust energy operations based on the needs of the residents.

While enabling this kind of technological reliability in our buildings and infrastructure could prove to be an invaluable step in achieving long term sustainability goals, it may also provide solutions for the immediate challenges facing us. The recent pandemic created new anxieties surrounding our sense of health, safety and wellbeing in these environments, and building operators and facility managers have been forced to rethink new strategies in order to make our buildings healthy and safe places to return to. Deploying technologies that allow a building to control its various management systems such as heating, room automation, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), may empower us to create healthy, productive, safe and sustainable environments and workplaces for people to return to after the crisis and beyond.

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