From the role they play in urban development schemes, to what Alice wants corporate audiences to take away from her public speeches, do not miss this exciting Q&A with a true climate champion.
How are smart cities more accessible to a diverse population?
“I think one of the things that Covid-19 has done is it’s managed to shine a light on some of the inequalities that already existed within our cities. It’s fair to say that many of those challenges were actually chronic challenges that existed before, but we’ve managed to see them to a much greater extent during Covid-19.
“So, in terms of thinking about how you create a city that is more inclusive and more accessible, you need to think, ‘who are the vulnerable groups within my city that potentially could be excluded?’.
“For example, that could be women, that could be people from the LGBTQ+ community, that could be disabled persons, that could be migrants.
“There are people who are basically priced out of the market in urban areas. They’re living very much on the periphery or have a long journey from the city, and they’re spending huge amounts of time commuting long distances. They may have young families, they’re not concentrating on their health, and they have high levels of stress. They don’t have access to employment opportunities.
“You also have digital exclusion. And we’ve really seen that from Covid-19, where, for example, education went online, and many children just didn’t have access to the software, or the hardware required for them to access education.”
What role does sustainability play in urban development schemes?
“ESG has a major influence. So, if you’re a real estate developer and you want to attract finance to develop a project, the investment must be made in line with ESG – and it’s fair to say that most of the emphasis is on the ‘E’ rather than the ‘S’ and the ‘G’ at the moment!
“I think over time, we will probably see a greater emphasis on the ‘S’ and the ‘G’. So, if you’re a developer with access to finance, you need to be acting on climate and sustainability.
“That’s the first thing that’s sort of setting the focus, realising that they need to do better. The second is that the city or the national government is creating policies, that are part of this agenda to get to Net Zero by 2050 at the very latest, and many are much more progressive than that. So, the policy is requiring development to correspond with the Net Zero agenda.
“And the third thing is that occupiers are asking for action on sustainability, but also at the moment, we find a huge emphasis on health and wellbeing and the two can work together.
“So, you have investors, policymakers, and indeed, your future occupiers all asking for a greater focus on sustainability.
“Developers are very much focused on how they can address sustainability as part of their development project. They’re looking at how you can create more sustainable mobility, how people can walk and cycle to their buildings, and how they can access public transport.
“But they’re also looking at more sustainable sources of energy, for example, for that building or buildings, and how they can reduce water use. So, I think it’s a huge part of the agenda because investors are demanding it, policymakers are demanding it, and the occupiers are demanding it, too.”
What do you hope audiences take away from your speeches?
“I guess, I’m asked to speak about topics all the time, various topics that relate to smart cities. I hope that I’m able to give a global picture of best practices, and what cities can do to transition so that it will inspire policymakers and inspire the business community to also think about how they can transition their industry.
“I hope that some of the information I provide in terms of strategy inspire others to pursue to transition their city. Second, I provide successful examples that they can adopt in their unique local context, replicate, and scale for solutions within their city. So, I hope that people go away with some insights that they can then install locally.”
This exclusive interview with Alice Charles was conducted by Jack Hayes.