As the UK moves beyond lockdown, the government is faced with a challenge. How to create resilient and sustainable cities that can prevent disruption from a future pandemic.
Existing space is already being repurposed to meet the social distancing challenges of the 'new normal'. But new engineering solutions will be needed in parallel to prevent transmission. Think self-cleaning surfaces that can kill the virus in seconds. The applications for public transport and building safety could be huge, restoring public confidence and requiring fewer behavioural changes.
So, can the sector lead the way to a cleaner, greener future and protect jobs in civil engineering?
A green new deal for our cities
There's tremendous pressure on the government to move beyond the Covid-19 crisis with a new green deal. Millions have already been pledged for cycling infrastructure, with ambitious plans to create one of the biggest traffic-free zones in Europe in the heart of London.
But it's not just traffic that's responsible for emissions. Large scale buildings and tower blocks generate substantial quantities of C02 and civil engineering has a critical role to play in finding a sustainable solution. A system of retrofitting and refurbishment to meet exacting modern carbon zero standards could be one way to help property owners navigate the switch to a sustainable future.
One positive to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic has been the digital transformation of the civil engineering space. AI and predictive modelling have a place at the heart of data collection and analysis so civil engineers can better assess the impact of new roads and buildings on the local ecosystem.
Understanding the social, economic and environmental repercussions of critical infrastructure decisions should be a key driver for effective interventions. And the technological gains of this crucial period of transition should create jobs in civil engineering for experienced and highly trained individuals who can successfully implement them.
Despite the impact of the pandemic, by 2050 65% of us will be living in cities. That presents a real challenge for civil engineers implementing 'new normal' solutions for roads and public spaces. HS2 is already considering a redesign of its station plazas to account for social distancing.
In practical terms, designing for future cities is likely to be focused on the concept of the neighbourhood. Imagine new style urban planning with a more equitable distribution of resources, low traffic flows and their architecture and open spaces strongly influenced by social distancing requirements.
Outside the box solutions
Resiliency and sustainability solutions that meet the specific environmental and social needs of individual neighbourhoods and cities must be outside the box solutions. Making cities liveable for the foreseeable future will depend on how aspirational civil engineering interventions are perceived to be, what value will be generated by them and how that value is realised now and going forward.
Sustainable, resilient and liveable
Where solutions for the future of the built environment are a collaborative effort between a number of stakeholders, only civil engineers have the expertise to turn theory into reality.
Creating sustainable cities for future generations is about more than simply cutting greenhouse emissions. It's about the way we consider environmental, social and economic impacts as the three underpinning pillars of sustainability and civil engineers are ideally placed at the intersection of all three to create the right solutions.