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Designing cities with intent – why getting the infrastructure right matters | Fotech blog

Designing cities with intent – why getting the infrastructure right matters


Imagine a city with no congestion, no pollution, no overcrowding or housing shortages. One that is at one with nature, completely safe and easy to get around. This is not just a dream, but can be a reality. New smart cities are heralded as providing all this and more, but only if the right urban infrastructure is in place from the start.


When a vision of a new city is created, the computer-generated renderings often grab the headlines. But making decisions about the infrastructure - above ground and also underground - in the early stages of master-planning are vital to realise the benefits of smart urban living fully and ultimately define the quality-of-life and the happiness of the city’s residents.


What can new cities teach us?

There are approximately 100 new smart cities being built worldwide, everywhere from Saudi Arabia to South Korea.


One pioneering city is The Line in the Neom region of Saudi Arabia, which is dubbed “A revolution in urban living”. It’s a 170km-long development that will have no cars, no streets and no carbon emissions, as it will be powered by 100% renewable energy.

At its heart is a robust, intelligent infrastructure that will enable the city to achieve its ambitions. This infrastructure and other supporting services, such as high-speed transportation, utilities, digital infrastructure and logistics, will run in a subterranean layer. A digital framework that incorporates artificial intelligence (AI) will connect communities and businesses. Ninety percent the data collected will be analysed and provide a predictive system that enables services to improve. 


Another example is Nava Raipur Atal Nagar, a circular greenfield city in east-central India. It shares many of the same aims and values as The Line. Its purpose-built underground infrastructure for water, sewage, telecommunications and electricity and services are managed by a central intelligent control centre that manages everything from energy management and CCTV, to traffic management systems, and city helpdesk applications.


Smaller garden villages too are being built with the same aspirations. For example, Salt Cross in Oxfordshire has climate action and sustainability goals at its core. It will be based on a future-proofed infrastructure including digital connectivity to enable and to encourage high rates of home and remote working.


It could be many years before we know for certain if these new cities meet expectations, but what’s clear is that digital networks are a vital backbone to our future smart cities.


DAS enables a digital foundation

But how can these digital networks best operate? That’s where distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) comes into its own. DAS simply converts fibre optic cable networks into state-of-the-art sensors. This enables smart cities to monitor city infrastructure in real-time, with the added advantage that it provides anonymity to citizens.

There are already millions of miles of fibre installed in cities globally. It has mostly been laid to meet demands for telecommunications and increased connectivity. However, future fibre can be used for far more than connectivity – it can be used to sense and to provide valuable information about our surrounding environment. And building a new city from scratch presents an opportunity for urban designers to be more strategic about where fibre is installed.


The sensitivity to the local environment and quality of data produced can be optimised by selecting the most suitable type of fibre cable and making sure it is installed in the right place. The fibre can provide information over and above its initial communication value proposition, enabling maximum impact on additional levels of decision-making across multiple applications. Installers will incur little or no additional cost, providing these decisions are made upfront, at the time of design.


Partnerships at the outset

We currently have a choice when it comes to future cities and urban environments: engage with the right people at the right time to ensure the cities are optimally built and designed above and below the ground, or lose a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvent how we live and work. Urban development, planners, designers and architects all need to all be part of the discussion.


For more information about the development of smart cities worldwide, and the benefits they aim to bring to residents, download this SmartCitiesWorld report.


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