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Engineers can help cities adapt to change

The Consultants File 2010

It is not unusual for the British to talk about the weather. In fact, many consider it a national pastime.

However, the recent unprecedented temperatures – across not only the country but much of the northern hemisphere – have made these meteorological musings a bit more urgent.

Commuters sweltering on the London Underground may seem like an inconvenience but in Tokyo, nearly 6,000 people have been rushed to hospital with suspected heatstroke or heat exhaustion since April as the mercury hit more than 41˚C. The pressures on our cities can and will directly impact the health and wellbeing of individual inhabitants.  

This summer has put our urban infrastructure under a particular pressure and potentially questioned its resilience. But much as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, one hot summer doesn’t make a crisis.

More than just extreme weather

Resilience is a much wider issue than dealing with extreme weather events. We know that the global population is growing – putting greater demands on our infrastructure – as much as we know that some networks are beginning to creak under the pressures of age.

Work is being done to mitigate this from various quarters.

The ICE’s inclusive cities strand of thought leadership work is investigating how cities can handle changes in usage, resulting from factors such as the night time economy, or changes in users resulting from the ageing population. This will help to develop future resilience and inform the decisions made by civil engineers on the ground.

Meanwhile, the National Infrastructure Commission has published the National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) which takes a long-term approach to planning and recognises the population and climate challenges we face.   

Empowered city regions

The NIA includes a clear desire for investment in the transport networks of city regions, while preparing for 100% electric vehicle sales by 2030. Empowering city regions to take charge of their own infrastructure networks is an integral part of the ICE’s devolution agenda and will help to build the resilience that the UK’s cities require.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 resilient cities initiative – which is involved with and which will be speaking at the upcoming Global Engineering Conference – is helping urban leaders develop resilience strategies, with Sydney unveiling one earlier this year, following the examples of Bristol and Glasgow. These strategies unite people, projects and priorities to seek out new solutions for collective resilience challenges.

This way of thinking illustrates how civil engineers play a valuable role in safeguarding the future of the global population. By offering up their expertise and providing their technical know-how, they are often at the front end of these resilience strategies.

With these separate initiatives setting the agenda and the work of civil engineers playing such an important part in their success, we can see yet again the profession’s potential to transform lives and safeguard the future for all of us. Translating these initiatives and activities into civil engineering solutions will be one of the primary bulwarks against the growing challenges we face.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • So, nearly 6,000 people in Tokyo have been rushed to hospital with suspected heatstroke or heat exhaustion since April as the mercury hit more than 41˚C. London Underground have been trying to solve the problem for years and they've got themselves in a right pickle! Bad science and confusion about cause and effect!
    I believe the only mechanism that explains why Metros overheat in the summer is – the weather. Hot ambient air is being forces and dragged into the tunnels and 200 tonnes of metal is absorbing solar radiation and emitting the heat gained on the surface when it gets in the tunnels. As someone said to me today, the trains don’t scream to a halt at the portal and say to themselves “hang on we’ve got to discharge all this heat before we go into the tunnel”!
    Test it for yourself. Monitor the temperatures in the train and you will find it rises considerably when on the surface, and not so much when underground!

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