Urban planning with holistic problem-solving in mind

By Lauren Newby | November 24, 2021

By 2030, the global population is projected to reach 8.5 billion1 and by 2050, 7 billion people will live in urban areas2. The impact of this on our cities and urban spaces is and will be huge, complex, and multifaceted as cities and urban agglomerations balance everything from living standards to transportation, food, access to water, and sanitation. This is also a time of unparalleled access to complex data and new technologies that present opportunities for exploration. The role of socio-economic analysis to understand the drivers of change and provide smart insights to anticipate future trends has never been more important.

Collaboration leads to more effective decisions and results

Increasingly, there is acknowledgement that tackling city development issues cannot be done in silos; a collaborative, multidisciplinary path leads to better decision-making. Efficiencies can be gained by identifying challenges early on through a comprehensive examination of socio-economic conditions and future trends and continues throughout the whole life cycle of a project. Developing a strategic response therefore that foresees both opportunities and challenges, can in turn enable a better articulated shared vision that sets out a clear plan of action. Securing public sector investment to support implementation is also key, and planners and developers, for example, need to consider a robust approach to business case development that establishes a clear return on investment. Once a project has concluded, it is important to distill what works through monitoring and evaluation to assess good practice, lessons learned, and value for money.

Planning for tomorrow

City planners rely on deep technical capabilities, rigorous analysis, and visualization of complex data to understand future trends. In helping an urban setting, for example, overcome multiple economic barriers targeted growth strategies focus on a number of wide-ranging interventions such as planning and land use, transport, health and well-being, skills, clean growth, and, most recently, COVID-19 recovery can ensure a more prosperous future. These thorough analyses provide cities with stronger insights into future planning and are vital in the decision-making processes.

Urban settings must consider the factors that stimulate change, what will influence the economy and what the implications will be for potential future trends. Whether it is the public or private sector, all investment must demonstrate value for money. Economics-led master plans are therefore based on what is deliverable, investable, and fundable.

Cities must consider the factors that stimulate change and, subsequently, what will influence the economy and what the implications will be for potential future trends.
—Lauren Newby

What does the client of the future look like?

The public sector is an important driver for demonstrating value through nationally and internationally recognized guidance and practices. We have seen the private sector adopt many of these key standards set by governments around the world. This focus on standards and value is a key part of how projects should be approached; through business case development, appraisals, and evaluations to ensure that a sound evidence base underpins strategic decisions.

We are currently facing and working in unprecedented times where the impact of COVID-19 is testing the resilience and adaptability of how we live and work. We have witnessed rapid innovation and increased agility in our economies as businesses and services pivot to enable safe operations in this new norm. The disruption of the pandemic has created a fundamental shift in how we live, play, study, and work. It is an opportunity for cities to understand the scale and characteristics of new challenges and develop recovery strategies that will encourage resilience and growth.

At the same time, issues such as the climate emergency and the commitment to net zero carbon emissions, digitalization, automation and artificial intelligence, as well as public funding constraints continue to shape our future. There are uncertainties ahead and the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the economy are not yet fully understood. In response, the world needs to be agile in embracing new opportunities and diversifying, enabling us to become better-prepared for positively changing environments in the future.

[1] United Nations, “Population: Our growing population”, 2020, LINK
[2] Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, “Urbanization”, 2020, LINK