Abdulmajeed Albalawi, smart city programme director at Madinah Regional Authority, explains how the Saudi Arabian city is harnessing innovation to not only solve urban challenges, but promote Madinah’s cultural and historical heritage to citizens and visitors alike.
Madinah’s status as a holy city means a lot of the activity in the city is centred around the Holy Mosque
Madinah is primarily known as a holy city – where do your smart city ambitions intersect with that identity?
Abdulmajeed Albalawi: We’re mainly focused on solving city challenges and improving quality of life for our citizens. In that way, there’s no contradiction between Madinah as a holy city and Madinah as a smart city. We see our smart city strategy as an enabler to meet the needs of the city and its people, and to create positive experiences for those people.
Our aim is to become more holistic and to introduce more tools that will serve our citizens. That extends to the holy elements of the city and people’s lives and will make the city more suitable for those needs.
Our objectives are to improve city life for all citizens and create new jobs and economic opportunities – for example, around start-ups and technology. These are the driving forces behind the projects that Madinah has taken on so far, and as we see it, one influences and helps to solve the other – improving quality of life leads to better opportunities and a better urban economy.
As part of this work, we’ve designed an engine to capture the challenges the city faces so we can more easily connect together the issues and needs with solutions, with a view to meeting our main objectives.
When are some of the primary challenges that Madinah is facing?
AA: We have challenges split into two sections – business and operational. In terms of business challenges, we’re aiming to reduce the unemployment rate in the city through the projects we launch, and improve the digital skills of the workforce as part of that.
On the operational side, we’re looking at how we break down siloes between departments and promote a more open mindset. It’s a clear challenge for a lot of cities that needs to be solved, and for Madinah we want to overcome it to ensure that everyone can work towards our smart city objectives in the right way.
We see our smart city strategy as an enabler to meet the needs of the city and its people, and to create positive experiences for those people
There are other challenges out in the city that we’re facing, too. Madinah’s status as a holy city means a lot of the activity in the city is centred around the Holy Mosque, both for residents and visitors from around the world. As a result, there is a constant flow of people in and around the mosque which we need to manage to cope with crowding in the centre of the city. To deal with this challenge, we have launched an incubator in partnership with universities, experts and start-ups from around the world.
The incubator will be dedicated to solving further urban challenges in Madinah, too, identifying and defining the issues being faced and then engaging in a continuous problem-solving process with experts to overcome them. It’s a unique proposition for the city to work in this way and to have potential solutions being recommended on a continual basis from international experts.
What kind of technology-based solutions is Madinah looking to deploy to solve these challenges to become a smarter city?
AA: Our technology partners are crucial in achieving our goals as a smart city. We’re currently working with FIWARE and using their technology to create our own smart city platform. Madinah is the first middle eastern city to make use of FIWARE’s platform. We chose FIWARE’s open platform because our objectives call for us to view Madinah from a ‘city as a system’ perspective, and to solve problems based on what the system is telling us.
The smart city strategy seeks to improve city life for all citizens and create new jobs and economic opportunities
There’s no contradiction between Madinah as a holy city and Madinah as a smart city, said Abdulmajeed Albalawi
We’re now creating our city as a system via the FIWARE platform, meaning we’re connecting the dots between Madinah’s services, operations and departments, and beginning to break down siloes to identify the right solutions to issues at the right time. We’re collecting data from all over the city and connecting it together to enable data analytics, which will be really important in how we work out the kinds of solutions we require.
The main benefit of breaking down these operational siloes is being able to better define issues and challenges, as we have much more context on the city and its operations as a whole. It’s crucial for Madinah to be able to work in this way, and the challenge with crowds at the holy mosque illustrate why; we need to understand where the problem originates so we can solve it at the source.
Another benefit is that Madinah’s city departments have been able to collaborate more often and more easily. In turn, that has meant we have been able to push towards our primary objectives more collectively.
Outside establishing the smart city platform through FIWARE’s technology, we’re now looking into smart lighting. We see connected streetlighting as the beginning of a nervous system for the city, able to gather data about the city and monitor pedestrian and traffic flow, as well as air quality. We’re also exploring how we can use the same infrastructure to promote messages and information to citizens through digital signage. The streetlights and all associated monitoring will feed back into the smart city platform to give us a more holistic view of the city and how it is operating.
We have recently signed an agreement to build a full-scale digital twin of Madinah using satellite imagery, becoming the first city in the Middle East to do so
Coming back to the crowd challenges around the holy mosque and the central area of the city, we’re also developing a simulator to model those crowds. We’re currently designing the model and later will deploy sensors in the city to gather data to be able to monitor crowds and simulate scenarios. This won’t necessarily be a full digital twin of the mosque, but will be a mirror for the movement within and around it, including parts of the city infrastructure and operations that have an impact on movement and crowding.
We have recently signed an agreement to build a full-scale digital twin of Madinah using satellite imagery, becoming the first city in the Middle East to do so. We’ll use the 3D model digital twin for urban planning, traffic management, crowd management and urban analytics across the entire city, not just the centre and the holy mosque. We anticipate that we’ll have a digital twin of the city in the next three months.
How can innovation help to protect and promote Madinah’s history and culture?
AA: Through all of this smart city work, it’s important that we also look to promote the city’s culture and history, so we’re assessing how we can use technology to bring that history back to life. Here, Madinah is looking to use a combination of augmented reality and digital twin technology to illustrate our history in a more dynamic and modern way, both for the benefit of citizens and visitors.
I think innovation is all about how to open doors to experiences and the city’s unknowns. Technology is a great enabler for Madinah’s heritage and culture and can help to show everyone in the city how its identity has developed to become what it is now. We’re not designing the city around technology, we’re designing it around experiences, and how those experiences can create stories to be shared among people. Madinah’s culture flows through that process and innovation just helps us to draw it out.
The above-featured image of Smart City Laguna in Fortaleza, one of Planet Smart City’s projects in Brazil
The acquisition will strengthen Planet Smart City’s ability to integrate proptech expertise and environmental, social and governance principles into real estate development around the world.
Smart affordable housing company Planet Smart City has signed an exclusive agreement to acquire Politecna Europa which specialises in architectural and engineering design.
The acquisition will strengthen Planet Smart City’s Competence Centre, offering expertise that integrates proptech and environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles into real estate development.
Politecna Europa, founded by Luca Massimo Giacosa and Pietro Putetto, specialises in project management activities and is at the forefront of architectural, structural, and industrial design in the civil and infrastructure sectors.
The company is involved in activities across Italy, France, Switzerland, and Oman, leveraging a team of more than 100 engineers and architects. The specialist knowledge of both companies will be applied to create intelligent neighbourhoods and homes by increasing their efficiency and maximising the user experience of residents.
Planet Idea, Planet Smart City’s Competence Centre, and Politecna Europa are already working on joint projects around the world. Planet Idea designs innovative solutions in fields including technological systems, planning and architecture, social innovation, and the environment.
These solutions are integrated into real estate development projects that Planet Smart City carries out in Italy, India, Brazil, and the US, as well as supporting consultancy services to third party real estate developers.
“Planet Smart City and Politecna Europa have the same vision of real estate development aimed at the joint application of proptech together with the principles of ESG”
Planet Idea’s interdisciplinary team already includes architects, engineers, and urban planners, as well as digital transformation and social innovation specialists, who all work together at the Competence Centre in Turin.
After the two companies are fully integrated, an entity will be established including 350 professionals. A 4,000 square metre building has been chosen as the headquarters in Turin and, from October, will become an international centre of technological innovation and ESG in real estate.
“Planet Smart City and Politecna Europa have the same vision of real estate development aimed at the joint application of proptech together with the principles of ESG,” said Giovanni Savio, CEO of Planet Smart City.
He added: “The integration of our respective skills and professionalism will lead to the establishment of an interdisciplinary group that will increase our ability to generate and implement ground-breaking ideas.”
Planet Smart City’s mission is to create communities that respect local cultures and support inclusivity and sustainability. It does this through integrating innovative infrastructural, technological and social innovation solutions into its projects.
The research, development and integration of these innovative solutions is undertaken by subsidiary Planet Idea, which operates through multidisciplinary Competence Centres in Turin (Italy) and Pune (India). Planet Idea has, among other projects, created and launched the Planet App, a digital platform of high value-added services that also facilitates communication between residents in Planet Smart City’s neighbourhoods.
The Planet Smart City model has been rolled out in Brazil where four projects are underway: Smart City Laguna; Smart City Natal; Smart City Aquiraz; and Viva!Smart. In 2020, the business expanded into India and the US. In Italy, the company collaborates with leading real estate developers as an advisor in numerous smart social housing districts.
This Sustainability article by Tom Swallow on the commemoration of Earth Day. Accordingly, the author proposes that it is an initiative to raise sustainability awareness.
April 22, 2022
Earth Day is an initiative to raise sustainability awareness
Organisations are putting forward their sustainability sentiments as they highlight their ESG commitments in light of the April 2022 Earth Day initiative
While sustainability is a global issue that is recognised 24/7, 365 days a year, by businesses and non-governmental organisations alike, on the 22nd of April each year, the world comes together for Earth Day. The day recognises the significance of positive environmental impact and the economic and political intervention required to provoke necessary change.
Organisations across the globe are highlighting their commitments to sustainable development on this day as many of them set their sights on the net-zero emissions goal. The event sees more than one billion people mobilised as they take various non-profit actions to clean up beaches in more than 190 countries—a tradition that began in 1970.
The 2022 Earth Day theme is ‘Invest in our Planet’ and will host a live stream of the Earth Day Climate Action Summit featuring insights to promote prosperity among viewers and—similar to other events like the COP series—provoke positive change.
Organisations recognise ESG on Earth Day
The message behind ‘Earth’ Day is not only to promote sustainability in terms of the climate but to recognise that environmental, social and governance (ESG) topics are all important in ensuring a well-rounded approach. Consideration for all three areas of ESG is universal, not just for the organisations with direct impacts on the plant. As an example, Zai Lab Limited, an innovative global biopharmaceutical firm, is working with a global charity to plant more trees and reduce its carbon footprint while regenerating the environment.
Its partnership with One Tree Planted will see that one tree is planted for each of Zai Lab’s employees, which made up a total workforce of almost 2,000 personnel. Chief Sustainability Officer at Zai lab, Jim Massey says that “as a young, vibrant and growing healthcare company, Zai Lab commits to ‘Grow Green’ which means we are laying the groundwork for the sustainability of our business and our planet.” The firm is recognised as a preferred partner, thanks to its commitment to ESG throughout the business.
Partnerships are crucial for sustainable action
It’s no news that partnership can open up unseen opportunities for businesses—particularly those that operate and expand globally. Larger organisations are partnering with small-to-medium enterprises to support small initiatives that can make huge impacts on the planet. Beyond its partnership in electric vehicle charging, Bolt is also taking regenerative action by supporting Seedballs Kenya, an initiative that is regenerating land with a key bio-energy resource, charcoal—a commonly used form of energy production in Nairobi.
Seedballs Kenya is a prime example of a localised circular economy as it uses biochar, produced from charcoal dust, as a protective layer for its seeds in areas that are seemingly difficult to regenerate. This forms the Seedball.
Supporting initiatives like this one is driving innovation in the direction of a circular economy and more organisations are committed to achieving carbon neutrality by investing in regenerative horticulture and agriculture.
Teddy Kinyanjui, a Co-Founder of Seedballs, emphasises the importance of initiatives like these.
“In Kenya, like many other countries, the forests and grasslands are under great pressure. One of the many challenges of landscape-scale restoration is that indigenous seeds are often food for different types of animals like mice and birds,” Kinyanjui says.
“That’s where we come in. The Seedballs programme overcomes this challenge by coating native seeds in waste charcoal dust which prevents the seeds from being eaten. This means that the native grass and tree seeds can be planted year-round rather than waiting for the rainy season. When it rains enough, the charcoal dust dissolves and the seed sinks into the ground back to its natural state, ready to grow.”
“Bolt is built on a culture of operating in the most efficient way possible and we apply those values in how we mitigate our own environmental impact,” says Gutiérrez.
“We have handpicked a select number of projects where we collaborate closely with NGOs and other partners on local initiatives that we are confident will maximise the positive impact we can have on the environment. We are proud to announce Seedballs Kenya as the first project of this kind we are investing in and look forward to seeing the difference it will make in areas of Kenya where reforestation was unlikely to occur naturally.”
Every business can become more sustainable
There are many avenues that companies can follow as their path towards sustainability. This will most certainly look different for every organisation, which is why Earth Day brings together many of the new ideas and initiatives that shape their ESG strategies and address concerns around waste management, energy consumption and sourcing, greenhouse gas emissions, social justice and governance.
In the ever-growing food delivery market, changes have happened at an unprecedented rate—partly due to COVID-19 as consumer sentiments accelerate towards more sustainable products and services. In particular, food waste is a challenge that businesses in this space are concerned about. According to the UN Environment Programme’s Food Waste Index, more than 900 million tonnes of food is wasted every year and consumers have made positive changes to the way they consume food.
67% of respondents to a survey said they keep leftovers and use them for another meal
51% of consumers are frustrated by food waste
73% prefer to have accurate portion sizes to avoid food waste
68% feel that takeaway restaurants should have better precautions in place to reduce food waste
What makes a good sustainability initiative?
Where there is no single formula for sustainable business, Earth Day will surely outline some successful initiatives that can be replicated, adapted, and shared with other businesses. Whether it involves being more transparent of sustainability credentials, taking on new projects to improve emissions and waste management with an organisation, or supporting partners in their efforts to regenerate land, Earth Day 2022 hopes to inspire every individual, group and organisation to ‘Invest in our Planet’.
BIM News published Shaping the built environment means shaping our world that is simply healthy placemaking. It means tackling all negative elements from bearing on or resulting from a built environment in any other way that is unpredictably harmful in any space of time.
Shaping the built environment means shaping our world
November 9, 2021
How buildings and structures influence the society and why digital solutions play a crucial role
What do the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Parthenon in Athens and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai have in common? They are iconic buildings, heritage sites and among the most visited places in the world.
The two towers of the World Trade Centre in New York are also on the list of iconic buildings. The images of the burning twin towers on 11 September 2001, have become indelible in our collective memory: no building symbolised Western capitalism and globalisation so vividly.
These four examples show that buildings are much more than piled-up stones, concrete, steel, wood or glass. They surround us permanently and determine our everyday life and our perception. However, only a few professional groups are usually involved in their design: architects, urban planners and engineers.
Digital solutions, open interfaces and true collaboration
Architecture in particular, which was already considered the “mother of all arts” in antiquity and was supposed to be based on the three principles of stability, utility and beauty.
Today, architects often take on the role of mediator – between the various trades before, during and after the construction process. But it is not only architects who are now looking at a changed role within the construction process; engineers, general contractors and suppliers are also expected to cooperate more – and coordinate with each other, especially as the complexity of projects rises.
Digital solutions, open interfaces and true collaboration are essential. With the help of software, models can be modelled, reviewed and revised more accurately and quickly. This leads to more information, more true collaboration and real value derived from a closer collaboration.
All stakeholders in the building lifecycle are spending more and more time as information managers and organising, structuring and interpreting this information.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are proving to be powerful tools to further maximise the value and potential of data and make timely decisions faster – with positive implications for the entire AEC/O industry.
Benefitting from innovative software
In the planning and design phase of buildings, architects and engineers are already benefitting from innovative software tools that help identify rule-based clashes between models, create accurate construction simulations and schedules, and increase the efficiency of the design phase.
During construction, project managers and site personnel need to make the best use of available resources. Combined with monitoring data from construction sites, patterns that lead to problems can be identified.
Project managers can take corrective action faster – even before problems become critical. Scheduling deliveries to the jobsite and procuring materials can be significantly improved through more efficient routing, loading and inventory management using AI.
While efficiency is the main driver for AI in the construction industry, there is now an increased focus on end-user requirements and the desire for more sustainable buildings. Once a project is complete, AI provides additional benefits throughout the facility’s operation.
Sophisticated building management systems that integrate information from internet-connected sensors and other data collection devices are quickly becoming commonplace.
Buildings that shape the world
Creating buildings that shape the world is quite a task and only in the last few decades have stakeholders been able to rely on digital solutions. Think of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, created more than 250 years ago. For its part, the “metal monster” was considered highly controversial – and ugly.
Today, the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of France, one of the city’s landmarks and one of the most visited buildings in the world; more than 250m people have visited the “metal monster” since its opening in 1889. The Eiffel Tower has managed to survive the debates about its shape – and today the fear that it would disfigure the cityscape seems almost absurd.
But sometimes it is the absence of buildings that brings different cultures and walks of life closer together. When two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 and they collapsed as a result, it didn’t just hit the US; it shook the entire world.
An attack in the heart of the city that reflects globalisation, cultural diversity and international community like no other shook everyone around the globe. The two holes that the collapse tore in the skyline’s silhouette were not filled. Instead, an architect developed a remarkable place of remembrance – leveraging digital solutions that simulated the scenery.
Digital solutions today are an essential part of the creation, construction and management of buildings and structures. But the result is much more than the planned arrangement of materials. Buildings reflect our relationships with one another, and their basic requirements have remained unchanged over the decades. Buildings must assume a responsibility for us as a society that extends into the future and therefore goes hand-in-hand with the idea of sustainability – helping us shape our world.
COP26: Global index for measuring resilience to climate risk launched
Jyoti Mukul | New Delhi Last Updated at November 9, 2021.
GRII could enable asset owners to compare portfolio risks across geographies and hazards, as well as helping countries to prioritise national adaptation investments.
Ten global organisations with partial funding and in-kind contributions from the insurance sector and partner institutions have launched a Global Resilience Index Initiative (GRII) at COP26.
GRII will provide a globally consistent model for the assessment of resilience across all sectors and geographies. The GRII will be using cross-sector risk modelling experience, including public-private partnerships between governments, academia, insurance and engineering.
Mark Carney, UN special envoy on climate action and finance, Mami Mizutori, assistant secretary-general and special representative of the secretary general for disaster risk reduction in the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and Eric Andersen, president, Aon, are the patrons for the.
Among the organisations that have come together to launch GRII are United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Insurance Development Forum (IDF), University of Oxford, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment (CCRI) and UK Centre for Greening Finance and Investment (CGFI) and British risk and insurance advisory company Willis Towers Watson.
According to Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency and CGFI advisory board, the heatwave in Vancouver, the floods in Germany, the polar vortex in Texas and the drought in Madagascar over the last one year had shown the horrifying human costs of climate change. “By making our systems and economies more resilient to climate disruption we can save millions of lives and livelihoods. To inject pace into this vital agenda we need adaptation and resilience to be clearly understood by governments, businesses and communities. The Global Resilience Index Initiative helps deliver that,” said Boyd.
GRII will be a curated, open-source resource offering high level metrics across the built environment, infrastructure, agriculture and societal exposures with many potential applications in aggregated risk management worldwide, said a press statement. “The mission of the GRII is to address the data emergency that is contributing to the climate crisis by helping sectors across the global economy quantify the value of building climate resilience and the costs of doing nothing,” it said.
GRII could enable asset owners to compare portfolio risks across geographies and hazards, as well as helping countries to prioritise national adaptation investments.
The coalition behind the GRII is seeking to achieve two initial goals offer global open reference risk data using metrics built on insurance risk modelling principles; provide shared standards and facilities applicable to a wide range of uses, including corporate climate risk disclosure, national adaptation planning and reporting, and the planning of pre-arranged humanitarian finance.
According to Carney, UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance, GRII can play an important role by creating a shared understanding of mounting physical climate risks. “In turn, this will help close the insurance protection gap and direct investment and aid to where they are needed the most,” he said.
Mizutori said GRII has the potential to support all sectors in the management of adaptation and resilience, but action and support is required from the private and public sectors to further globalise the initiative. “The next steps are to ensure that countries are able to make full use of the GRII’s potential, particularly at the strategic risk assessment stage, and support governments in making critical climate investment decisions,” he said.
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