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Resilience leads to Smart Sustainability

Our cities have been transforming at a staggering speed. In 1950 around 30% of the world’s population lived in cities. Today, that figure is about 55%. By 2050, around 68% of the global population will be city-dwellers and by 2100, that figure is predicted to jump to 84%. Can you imagine by 2030, China alone will likely have two cities of more than 100 million inhabitants?

How are we preparing for such a shift to cities? The challenges will be considerable. Most importantly, cities need to be resilient enough to absorb this sheer number of people migrating to urban life, and the shocks of what we are facing in an ever-increasing volatile world.  

of the world’s population live in cities todayof the world’s population is expected to live in cities in 2050of the world’s population is expected to live in cities in 2100

Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs

It is the infrastructure that often takes the strain.

Technology becomes critical to connect all the different parts of a city to make it a cohesive, evolving, vibrant place. A city can function ─ not just on a daily basis but also by constantly repositioning itself to meet the demand of this migrating pressure ─ by planning for its future. So, we need to invest in both resilience and sustainability, to future proof our infrastructure and cities.

We need to build capacity to keep absorbing and maintaining our essential functions. We also need to build out these essential functions to manage the key resources that enable cities to be “switched on”  24 x 7. For a sustaining future, equipping the city for tomorrow and all it has to cope with in shocks, disruption and population growth, needs a constant focus on resilience. Cities need to ready themselves for the many changes and demands that will be placed on them.

Resilience and sustainability are critical in any decision.

Resilient systems are designed to give continuity, especially when a city faces a sudden shock. Sustainability builds more towards the future.

Building a more resilient infrastructure is partly about rethinking our understanding of the environment we are in. Resilience thinking is a transitioning model where the social, cultural, economic and environmental impact moves relentlessly towards a sustainable one. Change is unavoidable and future infrastructure development will require new pathways and solution approaches, that will be increasingly radical.

Many investment decisions will be made up of the unknowns of new technology, as the existing ones are grossly inadequate to keep sustaining. The elected official must justify these decisions being made, especially when infrastructure investments have significantly long paybacks. That fear of the wrong decision holds many back. Instead, they opt for extending the life of the existing technology and not making that level of commitment needed for the bolder solution that is realistically required.

Today many of the infrastructure decisions are made in a partnership approach. Knowledge shared, investments spread, and the support given are part of an ecosystem. Municipal or public sectors cannot do everything themselves; they need to form a partnership with investors and the private sector. It is their combined insight, sharing of the burden, combined skills and knowledge which build the justification by relating and mining the best available data.

Without this access to big data, insights and shared knowledge you lack that deeper understanding of solution options. Relevant data gives the understanding needed for a more rigorous evaluation approach and enables solutions to be designed within a clear roadmap reflecting specific needs, that offers sounder predictions and the best input. When this is all combined it can build the right sustaining solutions. Taking the sustainability approach means investing constantly, keeping resilience always in the thinking, towards a more sustainable state. Early detection, fast recovery and the opportunity to invest in more robust systems to avoid and prevent failure in the future, have a high priority.


Digital infrastructure in Taipei is changing the city’s resilience for the better.

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Why digital and technology integration is becoming the catalyst for change.

We need constant insights, so we are ready for unforeseeable situations that seem to be happening at more regular occasions. This increasing frequency means we have the need to build greater capacity, space and ability to respond.

We are being faced with far more extreme weather-related events that are not just happening around the globe but also within our own cities.  We are witnessing business and communities facing an increasing emergency in violence, fires, power disruptions, security challenges and cyber-attacks. We are facing a growing range of health-related challenges, spread in a globally connected world or simply in the communities we live in. Each of these businesses and communities needs to have in place a resilient system, ready to respond and absorb the shocks and stresses, which will inevitably bring disruption into our daily lives, constantly challenging a functioning city.

The connecting part of resilience is building a robust infrastructure.

Resilience is connecting people, organizations and systems to prepare, so they can respond, recover essential services and re-build ─ so once again they can thrive by overcoming the hazards we face. The importance of continuity requires us to build critical urban infrastructure systems to respond. They must be sustaining and robust.

Infrastructure needs to be thoughtfully planned, designed, managed and maintained. This is different from the past because the events are happening at an increasing scale. Resilient systems need to combine in solving today’s problems by intelligently building out the understanding for robust approaches that are sustainable and future-ready.

With the aid of advanced technology, better materials, and greater data insights built into designs they can become more “holistic”,  using a whole-system management approach to connect all of the parts. To achieve this coming together, the value of forming around being “smart”, based on smart technology solutions and digital connections, becomes paramount to manage this city-wide.

Today we are still attempting to connect all these parts.

We are working out ways to overcome systemic fragmentation, the duplication and often contradictions, within the legacy systems found in cities and working through how we manage and overcome these challenges  

Most cities are still building the fundamentals, learning and applying available applications and focusing on getting increasing adoption, integration and common understanding. As the power of connected data delivers information, it enables and allows us to begin to harmonize and connect our infrastructure, to provide a connected picture to respond and plan in more intelligent ways.

As we begin to “pull together” the physical infrastructure that supports energy, transportation, water and our buildings, we are underpinning the essential within a city, it needs to be smart by being connected. I would argue the more resilient we become, the more robust are our abilities to recover, react, advance and explore. We develop a more adaptive capacity and a greater fluidity in our abilities to deal with change in our environment. This provides the focus on creation ─ to change where we are, into a more sustainable one ─ based on evolution, learning and adaptation.

BY Paul Hobcraft

Paul offers views that have an outside-in perspective having lived in different parts of the world. Presently based in Switzerland, where his principal focus is mostly on Asian and European markets, developing his innovation practice and advisory work.

Data Sources
The 100 Resilient Cities initiative, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation and supported by EY
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs


green cities / IoT / resilience / smart infrastructure / sustainability

We’d love to hear from you

Siemens are at the forefront of everything Smart Cities. To learn more or make a suggestion please get in touch.


Explore the cities

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