When we consider the requirements of a growing global population and the impact of climate change and resource constraints on our future, we need to focus on making sustainable decisions and enabling more efficient and liveable cities. Most of us live in cities and more of us are moving to them. By 2050 the world’s population is expected to reach almost 10 billion, with over 70% projected to be living in urban areas.

Do we even have the vision and innovation needed to build this sustainable infrastructure? Perhaps more practically, do we have the public sector and private sector funding sources to improve, build, and sustain infrastructure?

We know 75% of the infrastructure we need by 2050 is not yet built, so now is the time to consider how we creatively and innovatively close that gap. Best practices in sustainable infrastructure development may not be ubiquitous, but developers are increasingly aware of the benefits. At Wood we are focused on how we better connect our global network of consultants in order to bring technical expertise from diverse environmental, energy and infrastructure projects and apply those transferable learnings in – amongst other areas – sustainable transportation, renewable energy and water solutions. We also see technology exponentially changing the way we design, build and operate infrastructure. From innovative decision-support tools to balance and mitigate the impacts of projects, to visualisation tools that help engage communities, and powering digital twins with data to improve engineering efficiency and safety – we are innovating to provide cities with sustainable outcomes.

New city infrastructure must connect assets (physically and digitally), be built to last and deliver the services that can improve the social fabric of cities: advantageous not just to developers and users but also to existing communities. Heathrow Airport’s expansion programme, where Wood is part of an integrated design team, is critical to London and the UK’s growth. It is weaving green infrastructure into the fabric of the airport, a new runway located and designed to minimise noise, and new terminal facilities allowing travellers to reach their destination with greater ease and reduced impact.

It must be built to last, and resiliency is key particularly in the major coastal cities that are prone to climate events and flooding – and even more so the ‘delta-cities’ such as Hong Kong, New Orleans, New York or Rotterdam that collectively have more than 340 million people. Our flood risk management solutions are helping coastal urban areas in the British Virgin Islands to be stronger, greener and more resilient.

Anticipating future transport demands, enhancing connectivity, and responding with solutions that meet environmental and energy reduction targets, allow light rail systems like Toronto’s Metrolinx programme to meet the needs of urban travellers, reduce emissions, and create a more efficient and long-term solution for public authorities.

Joseph Sczurko

World Cities Day: a blog on sustainable infrastructure from Joe Sczurko

While the message is clear that putting long-term sustainability at the core of infrastructure pays off with improved performance and future proofing, financing remains a challenge; the World Economic Forum believes that the world faces an infrastructure funding gap of $15 trillion by 2040. There is still work to be done with investors to demonstrate the full value of innovative sustainable infrastructure success, providing the assurance that these solutions can be funded, scaled up, and implemented globally. Meeting these kinds of challenges on a global level will require co-operation across many kinds of funding sources, partnerships and our collective energy.

In that context, Wood is partnering with global influencers such as Citi and UNGC/OECD to support and access new resilient infrastructure investment funds. Our work with the Rockefeller Foundation to develop an investment screen that can be applied to increase infrastructure project resilience and support investment decisions also channels this thinking perfectly.

World Cities Day is a great time to celebrate the success, connectivity and quality of living achieved in global cities. But it is also a moment to reflect on the importance of sustainable development in a growing and increasingly urbanised world: constantly considering how we can integrate sustainability and resilience into our infrastructure, how we can future-proof cities, support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and improve lives. We shouldn’t view these infrastructure challenges as daunting, but celebrate and scale up the innovative and inspiring projects that make cities more liveable, inclusive, and resilient.