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Annual review 2022

Three minute insights:


The strongly interconnected and interdependent nature of cities means there are mutual benefits in solving problems, and opportunities to realise co-benefits that strengthen return on investment.”

Clare Wildfire, global practice leader - cities

Clare Wildfire

What were the critical issues in 2022?

Reduced access to affordable, high-quality housing and essential services were part of the cost-of-living crisis that swept the world in 2022. We saw the lasting effects of COVID-19 and the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine push up the costs of resources, energy and labour.

From London and San Francisco to Hong Kong and Auckland, supply of affordable, high-quality housing has consistently not met demand. Poor access to transport and digital communication constrains economic activity and restrict access to opportunity such as high-quality education, jobs, healthcare and leisure.

On top of that there is climate change. Cities must play their part in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and protect citizens from the physical impacts of climate change.

How can they be addressed?

Cities are nexus points, where challenges come together. While relationships, risks and responsibilities can be complex, the strongly interconnected and interdependent nature of cities means there are mutual benefits in solving problems, and opportunities to realise co-benefits that strengthen return on investment.

Moata, our award-winning digital platform, is being used to develop smarter flood responses in Bangkok, helping citizens to become more resilient and reducing the socioeconomic and environmental damage caused by localised flooding. Using nature-based solutions we have put life back into Hong Kong’s waterways and reduced combined sewer overflows into New York Harbour.

In Farnworth, south Bolton, UK, our ‘Streets for all’ work is a catalyst for the town’s regeneration. It includes a new and improved public square, widened footways, segregated cycling facilities and new green infrastructure.

Meanwhile, in Bristol, our development framework and business-case work has unlocked the potential of a new sustainable city quarter accommodating up to 10,000 new homes and 22,000 jobs, adjacent to and reinvigorating the historic Temple Meads railway station.

Many of these projects are increasing urban green space, providing summertime cooling, improving air quality, encouraging active travel and reducing flood risk – benefiting the health and wellbeing of those who live and work there. They also create habitat for wildlife, including birds and pollinators, an essential part of creating a resilient future for our cities.

We chair the Net Zero Infrastructure Industry Coalition of UK clients, investors and practitioners, who collaborate to address the hard-to-solve challenges in decarbonising the built environment. Building on our seminal 2021 report ‘A place-based approach to net zero’, in 2022 we initiated a project to explore the potential of heat as a service, HaaS. It would create a new category of utility provider, bringing the expertise to supply energy, install and maintain heating and cooling systems, and carry out building improvements – all to radically improve the thermal performance, affordability and carbon efficiency of providing thermal comfort. This is a key opportunity for reducing the climate impact of buildings – and therefore cities.

What are the risks of not acting?

The high likelihood is that the shocks caused by climate change, an economic downturn or another pandemic would herald an irrevocable decline in city prosperity, with a rise in all associated social challenges and reliance on the state.

What are the benefits of acting?

Building more infrastructure is not always the solution, given the carbon cost. Indeed, it’s estimated that new construction adds only 0.5% to the value of the built environment each year – in mature economies, at least. The greatest gains can be made by managing existing buildings and infrastructure better, and that is something we are increasingly able to do using digital solutions.

Targeted investment in services and resilience is nonetheless essential. The first in a new generation of net-zero schools began construction in Derby, UK, in 2022, and we were appointed to the National Health Service’s New Hospitals Programme, setting new standards for education and healthcare. We’re working on transport systems all over the world that will open access to employment, public services, retail and leisure – you can find out more about some of them in the projects section of our annual review.

We encourage a ‘triple access’ approach to urban planning, considering physical mobility, spatial proximity and digital connectivity. It enables the creation of places in which most people’s daily needs are met within a short walk or cycle. Data can be used to track performance, and to improve communication between owners and the public, helping make services more responsive and beneficial.

We’re working with all our clients to make city projects about more than just one thing. By including local people’s input when developing and selecting options, shaping designs and implementing new infrastructure, we achieve solutions that meet wider needs, improving value for money and improving sustainability.

What are the blockers and enablers?

Entrenched mindsets, siloed thinking and fractured decision-making get in the way of change and hold cities back.

Cities leaders have the ability to change that, through ‘four Ps’:

  • powers – the mandate to accelerate local change

  • partnerships – convening power to create public-private collaborations that drive change aligned with shared objectives and desired outcomes

  • digital platforms – the technologies and data to understand how city systems are performing, make better decisions, measure change and track co-benefits

  • people – trust and cooperation with stakeholders and citizens; and the ability to bring together the skills needed to implement change

These four Ps are within reach of most city authorities – we are regularly engaged to provide the knowhow required for authorities to build capability themselves, or to supply the necessary skills and capacity on their behalf. Big cities start with the advantage of having many of the building blocks in place already.

How can we help?

The breadth and depth of our capability, including the insights we have on the interconnectedness of city systems, means we can help city leaders and infrastructure providers ‘bend the spend’ towards improved outcomes. We understand how to make stretched resources go further, including the ability to understand and influence stakeholders.

Next steps?

City leaders, local authorities, transport companies and infrastructure providers, among others, must shift to an integrated and system-of-systems-based approach to planning and decision-making that focuses on outcomes – healthier, more accessible, more climate-resilient – not outputs of more trains, more energy, more water.

We’re open to those conversations because we bring so much more than technical solutions. We can identify and solve a city’s major issues with the know-how to build-in resilience. Our teams can also solve future challenges through their deep technical expertise and understanding of social outcomes. It’s what we think of as ‘technical +’.


Annual review 2022

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