20 Apr 2016
Infrastructures and Built Environment
Urban Engineering, a Pathway to Sustainable Infrastructure Management
Today, more than 3.3 billion people live in cities around the world. Although cities occupy only 2% of the earth’s surface, they are home to 50% of the world population, consume 75% of the energy produced, and are responsible for 80% of CO2 emissions. By 2030, it is estimated that 5 billion people will live in urban areas, representing more than 60% of the world population. Consequently, problems related to the management of cities and their infrastructure are becoming increasingly significant.
To cope with both the economic crisis and the environmental crisis, cities will have to improve the management of their assets, offer more energy efficient services and better environmental performances. They will need to set up effective systems of transportation and mobility, local energy production systems, economic and energy-efficient measures, effective waste recovery and recycling systems, and a comprehensive approach to urban water management.
Expertise requirements in management, maintenance, and rehabilitation of urban infrastructure are therefore increasingly relevant. Just consider the extent of the studies and work required to complete the much needed, and often neglected, aging infrastructure upgrades. Municipalities, as well as consulting engineering firms and construction companies, are now looking for skilled workers in their field.
Furthermore, as diagnostics and rehabilitation technologies are changing rapidly, and as the stakes are not only economical but, above all, environmental and sustainable, there is a real need for multidisciplinary training in technical and economic management for professionals in municipal affairs.
Urban engineering focuses on the interactions of the social and technical system of the city and considers the infrastructure as a key element of a territory’s sustainability. This new field of study, popular in Europe, could change our traditional urban planning and infrastructure management methods.
Engineers in the field of urban engineering work on a wide variety of issues. They may, according to their field of competence, deal with problems related to public space development and downtown commuting, quality of life and environment, management of rain water, urban waste processing, networks, and urban energy savings.
These engineers work transversely, and in close collaboration, with urban planners and people in charge of the development and establishment of urban areas. The interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder components of urban engineering integrate sustainable urban development features and the impact on urban and infrastructure management.
In theory, the urban phenomena should be considered in a more holistic view. In other words, it is a multi-tiered representation of the city and its various urban issues, with the different aspects of social life and infrastructure forming one integral unit, which can only be considered as a whole.
Essentially, urban engineering can provide a useful and original way to deal with the management of urban infrastructure towards sustainable development.
Alain Soucy is a specialist in water treatment, environment, and urban infrastructure. He was General Manager of the École de technologie supérieure de Montréal (ÉTS) (1984-1988) and General Manager of the INRS (1988-1999). He still teaches some courses in urban engineering at the ÉTS.
Program : Construction Engineering