Studies show that large cities are accommodating significant population growth, a disproportionately high level of jobs growth, and a further disproportionately high level of wealth growth. Large cities are, and are increasingly, the engines of human economic activity.
Meanwhile, new dire warnings from climate science tells us that we have little more than a decade to take necessary action to avoid catastrophic climate change. Climate change impacts are now very much in the horizon of long-term investors and insurers. The impacts and risks are very real.
At the same time that cities are disproportionately hosting global economic activity and the imperative of climate change is becoming dire, mental health has come into focus as a pillar of human health. Given the importance of cities and their disproportionate role in hosting human activity, how do we optimize them for prosperity? How do we help people be happy and reach their full potential, while ensuring the planet can sustain human life? Cities need to grow in ways that provide economic benefit to businesses and their residents. Successfully implementing old ideas and new ideas together with dramatic effect to land use, parks and recreation, housing, workplaces, transport, and energy is required.
If we’re going to build cities for prosperity, to accommodate growth and prevent environmental catastrophe, we must get better at achieving concentrated activity in well-designed and high-density “nodes.” This means avoiding the wasteful and inefficient urban sprawl that is symptomatic of so many urban areas. It means accommodating growth and activity efficiently and in ways that are attractive to people.
In today’s technology-enabled world, nodes should integrate and host places for work, for consumption, for gathering, and for living. Nodes need to be serviced by regionally and locally connected transportation hubs. These must be contemporary, low-carbon energy systems with flexibility for future evolution that will reduce carbon footprints, and produce greenspace and effective environmental systems. A series of interconnected nodes can support residents and economic activity; they provide for the needs of people efficiently and drive prosperity. When designed and built properly, they can create enormous value for the investors who will create them and the public who will benefit.
People and businesses are willing to pay a higher price to be in successful nodes. Market economics tells us we need more of these kinds of clusters, because many of the ones people are flocking to—often centers within successful cities—are getting increasingly expensive.
Making successful nodes requires bringing together the needs and desires of three critical actors: residents, businesses, and government.
Often, infrastructure and development-planning initially lack the scope or perspective to take a step back and consider what is possible. Commissioning projects that fail to do what they should or might do are a loss to everyone, because the original infrastructure plans don’t address what matters most to residents, visitors, and users. The situation can be avoided if teams do their up-front research with the right knowledge at hand. They need to clearly identify the full scope of what is possible and how likely it is that various elements will come true. That way, they can build it specifically to deliver economic upticks and other benefits the community wants and values.
By bringing together needs, trends, and knowledge of current and planned infrastructure and what can be done with it, Hatch has, and is increasingly initiating some of the largest and most promising infrastructure developments in some of the world’s great cities, including Toronto, London, San Francisco, and New York. These projects create significant positive changes in people’s lives, opportunities for businesses, and achieve other city-building goals.
High-performing city-regions are productive because of the agglomeration of many people with specialized training and knowledge applying their skills. Lots of people trying to be close together and moving around from home to work and other places creates congestion—friction that prevents cities from working efficiently. Housing shortages (indicated by quickly rising prices and reduced housing affordability) mean that excellent public transport closely tied to new urban development is badly needed. Given the recent dire warnings from climate experts, combined with housing supply challenges and the ongoing war for talent, now is the time to optimize regional transportation infrastructure, accommodate growth, achieve shorter commute times, and support efficient city development.
Hatch is working with its clients to bring developments of housing, work, and consumption spaces together with rapid transit. We are working on many of the largest transit-oriented development projects in Canada. We are influencing the growth of city regions, bringing much-needed affordable housing and office space to the market, supported by mixed uses and amenities like retail space integrated with high-quality sustainable transportation. All are designed to help people live better, work better, travel better—all more efficiently. It’s anticipated that these changes will bring more of these specialized individuals to the area’s most productive regions. Their home-buying and settling will revitalize the communities along transit lines, and accommodate growth while making the most of the infrastructure that exists. The benefits are three-fold: more productive development for developers and owners; less congestion for cities and communities' housing growth; and more affordable, attractive homes for people when the total costs of housing, maintenance, and transportation are factored in.
Prosperous cities need more than hard infrastructure to be successful. More and more, we see emphasis shifting to more human-oriented approaches, designs that integrate social activity and residents’ well-being. A gap remains that requires more human ingenuity still: understanding what will actually make a better world for people, physically and experientially. What should we focus our energy on? What will solutions that emphasize value for humanity look like?
Smart city growth depends on identifying the right opportunities and maximizing delivered economic, social, and environmental benefits. We have the knowledge and technology in engineering and the social sciences to address issues of wellness, its development and maintenance, in the broadest possible terms. Hatch is working with its clients to tackle issues of sustainable urban development for the benefit of the planet, the people who will live, work, and play here, and investors. By bringing together knowledge and science, we are building models people will look to for places to live and invest in for the next century and more.
Michael Sutherland is Director of Urban Solutions at Hatch. With remarkable experience launching large city-building projects with both the public and private sectors, Michael is a master strategist, helping teams realize the identification, planning, negotiation and execution of urban projects which enable attractive, valuable, sustainable development. He is a proven practitioner in making great transportation and urban development projects happen.