Shaping Sustainable Cities

Matthew Tribe, Managing Director — Planning, Design, and Engineering, Middle East and Africa, Atkins
Matthew Tribe, Managing Director — Planning, Design, and Engineering, Middle East and Africa, Atkins

Matthew Tribe Managing Director Planning, Design and Engineering, Middle East and Africa at Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group, talks about the need for a well-communicated clear strategy on the benefits of owning and running low carbon, highly efficient buildings, resulting in positive changes that benefit the GCC net zero targets

Published: Mon 7 Nov 2022, 10:49 AM

Last updated: Mon 7 Nov 2022, 2:33 PM

Sustainable urban master planning is a key aspect of future cities’ net zero strategies. Get this wrong and it negates other major efforts to decarbonise, such as reducing emissions from transport or energy sectors. This can be achieved through multiple strategies and will need a mixture of approaches, such that each provides an incremental benefit to produce the transformational shift required.

The GCC has an advantage over much of the world in that a sizeable amount of planning in the region is still greenfield, providing the opportunity for master planners and governments to create mixed-use communities that can be accessed and navigated by walking, cycling and micro-mobility rather than by car. However, there has been a tendency in the region to focus on high-quality, attractive gated communities for residents, where a car is essential to get around, and there are few amenities available within a walkable distance. Local freight and logistics are managed by road and for many, a car or taxi is essential to travel to work. Still today, master plans are launched that are designed around road transport, although this is gradually changing.

To help the region achieve its net zero targets, The SNC-Lavalin Group, including Atkins and Faithful+Gould, has launched the ‘Engineering Net Zero in the GCC’ report, highlighting the interdependency between the built environment, energy, and transport sectors to reduce carbon emissions.

People-centric approach

Sustainable cities or communities need to consider liveability, work and access to shops, schools and essential services by a range of non-car and road-based modes. This means integrating land use and urban transport planning and ensuring that high performance buildings and environmental solutions reduce energy needs. Master planners and developers must consider how institutional investors and funds are making their investment decisions. — ensuring that the plans meet portfolio sustainability requirements, and how those portfolios perform against Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria.

The rapid growth in the UAE’s built environment needs no introduction. The Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan maps out a comprehensive plan for a sustainable urban development in the emirate, focusing on enhancing people’s happiness and quality of life. The plan also aims to develop integrated sustainable housing complexes. Integrated communities will be developed according to the highest planning standards, with green spaces, commercial centres and recreational facilities.

Decarbonising the built environment

The building blocks for creating sustainable urban communities needs to be in place, driven by planning legislation and strategic land use planning. The focus must be on existing sites within metropolitan areas, particularly fallow areas, including stricter rules around regeneration and retrofitting existing buildings to bring them up to the required standards in terms of energy efficiency and internal comfort and well-being. To help reduce carbon emissions for existing buildings, SNC-Lavalin has developed DecarbonomicsTM, a data-driven solution to decarbonise the built environment in a cost-effective way to enable asset owners to contribute to demand reductions and net zero goals.

The region’s built environment continues to be very concrete-based, and for construction to decarbonise, it needs to transform digitally, embrace modern methods of construction (MMC) and investigate novel materials usage. Leading companies are taking these steps, but government legislation is required in some cases to accelerate the process, particularly to push the use of MMC and to ensure safety. There is work underway to decarbonise cement production to an extent through the adoption of refuse derived fuel, which diverts waste from landfill. Carbon capture technology, as is used in the oil and gas sector, could be applied to the cement process, creating a form of ‘green’ cement, but no incentives or drivers for this exist at present. Demand-side management will also play a key role in energy planning, and governments can play an active role in shifting cultural thinking around electricity and water use in the region. Facility management (FM) planning needs to begin at the design stage for a major asset. For owners, good FM will result in their investment performing far better, with controlled maintenance costs and the building being able to attract higher-value tenants.

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