The rapid urbanization of the world’s population is the grand challenge that unites all other issues, concluded Prof. Uwe Krueger, Atkins’ chief executive officer, as he addressed the Royal Academy of Engineering in London, England on Oct. 29.
In his speech, entitled “Imagination: The key to engineering the future,” he said the engineering industry must demonstrate a step-change in imagination, holistic thinking, and levels of cooperation across disciplines due to the complexity of the task that lies ahead.
Krueger was delivering this year’s Hinton Lecture, named in honor of Lord Hinton of Bankside, the first president of the academy. He told the audience that dealing with a global population of an expected nine billion people by 2050 — with 75 percent in cities — will lead to the need for urban centers that are environmentally resilient, socially cohesive, and as efficient as possible.
“We need to focus on urbanization,” Krueger said; “it makes us address all allied challenges: energy needs, water infrastructure, transportation, food, health, and wealth-creation. Urbanization is not just about building more, though; it is about creating smart cities where people want to live. We might be looking 50 or even 100 years ahead, and the future depends on what we do now.”
He noted how 95 per cent of city growth is expected to take place in developing countries, and in the next 20 years the urban populations of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa alone are expected to double to over 3.5 billion—roughly half the global population. Dealing with that will need holistic planning, as the risks of uncontrolled growth are too great. This requires a mix of disciplines; alongside engineers we need scientists, behavioral experts, planners, and academians.
Krueger pointed to Atkins’ recent report, “Future Proofing Cities,” which was produced in partnership with the UK Government and University College London. The report assessed 129 major cities across Africa and Asia, and was developed to help tackle risks to long term prosperity and growth. Krueger drew on the findings from this report and said, “We need to break out of silos and create integrated portfolios of solutions and packages of measures.”
“It is vital now for us to learn from the past in order to inform the present,” Krueger concluded, “as only then will we be in a position to inspire the future.”