Skip to main content

Blog Innovate UK

Innovate UK
Innovate UK

Why do cities matter?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Support

Solving city problems

Over the last few years, Innovate UK has put a lot of effort into the future of cities. We have set up the Future Cities Catapult Centre, and created an Urban Living programme that has supported projects in everything from large scale demonstration of integration of city systems and modelling of complete cities, to the application of Internet of Things technologies and satellite observation to solving city problems.

Why do we think that cities matter so much and offer such exciting opportunities for innovation?

Cities are undergoing rapid change

Cities are undergoing rapid change. In 2008 for the first time in human history, more than half the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 2050 70% of a much larger population will live in cities and towns. In fact, over the coming decades the urban population will absorb all of the global increase in population and continue to draw people from rural areas to urban centres.

Urban species

We are becoming an urban species, and cities must evolve to meet our needs. They have to provide a strong economy, so that people have jobs and a place to trade, support well-being and provide a good quality of life, and do all this in a way that is flexible, resilient and adaptable to environmental, social and political shocks.

Cities are economic engines

Cities are the economic engines of the world. They usually have higher GDP per capita, higher levels of education, and greater rates of innovation and business formation than the average for their host countries. 80% of global GDP is already generated in cities. At the same time, they are struggling with climate change, changes in population and demographics, congestion and air quality, healthcare and pressure on key resources such as water, food and energy. How can cities deliver all the benefits whilst limiting the downsides of size and growth?

Thinking of the city holistically

The scale of the transformation of our urban environment is immense. £38 trillion will be invested in global infrastructure by 2030, and innovation is required everywhere. Innovate UK has substantial programmes in transport, the built environment, the digital economy, energy generation and supply and healthcare. These are all essential systems for the success of cities, but these have not yet been combined to think about the city a whole. For rapidly growing cities facing all the pressures of environmental and population shift and resource crunches of all kinds it is vital that we move from optimising the individual city systems to integrating those systems to radically improve city performance.

Integrating city systems

The global market for integrating city systems alone is expected to be worth more than £200 billion p.a. by 2030. That is the prize for innovation in urban living, and that is why we are so excited about the potential for UK companies.

Cities require new solutions

So cities will require new solutions based on the latest developments in materials, manufacturing, electronics, computing and biosciences, to improve hundreds of different city systems and the way they work together. The future is being created in the world’s cities, and they are your future market.

You can follow me on Twitter @miller_klein

You can follow Innovate UK on:

Sharing and comments

Share this page

1 comment

  1. Comment by @kevincouling posted on

    Y'know, I'm very excited about the prospect of cities that are more efficient, more connected and more able to adapt to the demands placed upon them such as increasing population and the various impacts of climate change. It's certainly to be hoped that these future cities will be a significant improvement on those that we have now. Quite how we deliver them is a different matter of course but that's not what I wanted to say.

    The conversation about cities is inevitable of course given the drivers for having to improve them, but whenever I'm about to be moved to paroxysm's of excitement by the seamless integration just about everything in the city, I'm brought up short by running headlong into the large pachyderm loitering quietly in the corner of the room.

    You see, I can't help but wonder where, in all the undoubtedly glorious development of future cities, the countryside comes in? You know that place where many of us like to escape to (including a fair proportion of city dwellers), that place which currently helps out with climate change in a variety of ways, the place that is the very epitome of this green and pleasant land of ours and, let's not forget, that place that provide a significant proportion of our food. Oh, and there's the seaside too. Don't get me started on the seaside...

    Anyway, I'm genuinely excited about the prospect of better cities, but I'm not sure that having beautifully crafted transport systems, access to data about the air quality of your walk to work or how to navigate your way to the nearest sandwich shop that your app tells you has at least one freshly prepared tuna bagel still in stock, will be of much use if there's no-one sat in a tractor planting wheat which will eventually end up as your bagel or a fisherman wrestling lines from an unforgiving sea to ensure you have the tuna to go in it.

    To my mind, the development of our cities needs to be considered at a regional scale, to think about the entire ecosystem of our modern existence. And maybe it is. Maybe I'm doing the debate a disservice by suggesting that these issues aren't being considered but, if they are, how come they're never mentioned above the clamour of trying to make our cities all shiny?

    Anyhow, just thought I'd throw it out there and I'm hoping that people will prove me wrong and point me in the direction of all the good work that's going on alongside and integrated with the push for better cities. Or maybe, we don't need the countryside to do those things for us - maybe our upgraded cities will grow their own food, provide countrysidelike amenity and everything else the that the current countryside does...who knows.

    In the meantime, here's a good article (although a veritable ancient in internet terms) setting out some of these issues:
    And here's a great discussion about urban ecology which might be the answer: