Technology the driver but not the panacea for Future Cities

5:45 PM Monday September 2, 2019 Paul Winstanley

At its core, the future city would offer the best platform for businesses to thrive and achieve their ambitions. Photo / Supplied

New Zealand’s cities and urban regions are changing fast, but we’ve only scratched the surface of their potential.
Digital disruption, environmental change, and rapid population growth are creating an unprecedented set of challenges that demand new ways of doing things.
In an ideal world, a future city would be one that is well connected, uncongested, sustainable, green, clean, vibrant, resilient and safe. And, at its core, the future city would offer the best platform for businesses to thrive and achieve their ambitions.
We have amazing natural building blocks in New Zealand and our country is well thought of on an international stage. We are undergoing some long-overdue infrastructure development, but there is still a colossal amount of work to do. Business as usual will not be enough.
The future resilience and liveability of our cities depends on our capacity for original solutions that can scale as we grow, making it all the more important to drive  conversation about  what our future cities could look like to help clients  make good decisions.
JLL is supporting the growth of future cities around the globe, and it’s clear that we can learn a lot from them. Look around and you can see every city is going through its own  challenges in terms of population growth, urbanisation, and rapid changes that have been brought about through exciting technologies.
Increasingly, we’re hearing the buzzword ‘smart city’ as cities realise the ability of acronym technologies like AI, 5G, and IoT to drive efficiency, sustainability, and improved decision making in creating more transparent and competitive business environments.
But this is where we need to be careful. Retaining our unique cultural personality through this new age of technology and property will be one of the most important challenges we will face.
A recent JLL report on smart cities in Asia-Pacific found that initiatives will not reach their potential if they focus on delivering cutting-edge technologies without paying  attention to the needs and experiences of citizens.
It’s here where the real estate industry can step up to bridge the gap between people —  the lifeblood of cities—  and the
digital infrastructure that is increasingly powering our urban environments.
More than 500 cities around the world with populations over 1 million have announced smart city initiatives, but a March 2019 report from global consulting firm Roland Berger found that a mere 15 of these have already put together a comprehensive strategy, while only eight  actually include a means of implementation.
By sharing all these lessons about developing cities, we could really improve our ability to manage change, limit risks, and ensure we are future-ready. That said, there is nothing stopping New Zealand from  leading the change in those aspects
where we are more advanced or have clearer insights.
We have to be ready to answer the tough questions head on, like where to from here? How should we work, live, move about, and maximise the opportunities that New Zealand has to offer?
To future-proof our cities, we must plan for what we don’t know. And that is not easy.
For example, should we be installing base infrastructure into buildings that will enable future capability or use changes?
Today’s cost is of course a factor, but what about the importance of factoring in  the expense of a major refit some years
down the track.
In preparing great places and thriving cities  for the next generation and beyond, the stakes could not be higher. To be considered successful, we must ensure that the overarching direction — both today and tomorrow — genuinely meets the needs and desires of the people who are the end-users. 
In line with this, we will be holding several events in 2020 focused squarely on the future cities opportunity, and we encourage all clients to come along and be integral to the conversation.
Change is the only constant in today’s world, and our industry, through a collaborative and iterative approach, wants to help clients choose the right path. 
  • Paul Winstanley is JLL Head of Research and Consulting