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How is the push for smart cities influencing real estate development advisory?

The push for smart cities has become a defining theme of the 21st-century urban narrative. With projections indicating that 60% of the world's population will reside in cities by 2030, the need for efficient resource management and infrastructural development is paramount. The intertwining of real estate development advisory with this movement offers a unique confluence of opportunity and challenge.

The growth of smart cities: A snapshot

 According to GlobalData's research, spending on global smart cities will grow from USD 221.1 billion in 2019 to USD 442.6 billion n in 2025 – a compound annual growth rate of 12%. Europe alone is projected to account for approximately 20% of this expenditure, with London, Paris, and Berlin leading the charge. Recent research also suggests that by 2025, over 70% of European cities are planning to invest in smart city technology, primarily focusing on sustainability and improving citizen quality of life.

Case study: Manchester's evolution as a smart city

Manchester offers a brilliant example of a city that has wholeheartedly embraced the smart city movement. Through its 'CityVerve' project, Manchester aims to revolutionise city services using IoT (Internet of Things) technologies. CityVerve provides insights into how cities can harness technology to address core challenges, from health and transport to energy and culture.

Defining smart cities

Smart cities represent a significant evolution in urban development, fusing digital technology with traditional infrastructure to create a symbiotic environment where technology and infrastructure work together to benefit citizens.

The Smart Cities Index ranks cities in the UK based on their digital infrastructure, governance, and urban planning. London consistently ranks among the top, with initiatives like the London Datastore, which offers a wealth of public data to fuel innovation and improve services.

Case study: Glasgow's transformation

Glasgow provides an exemplary illustration of a city's transition into a smart city. Awarded GBP 24 million from the UK government's Technology Strategy Board, Glasgow has been on a mission to address urban challenges using innovative tech solutions. These include energy efficiency programmes, advanced street lighting, and the integration of sensors to monitor air quality and building performance. The city's 'Operations Centre' acts as a hub, consolidating public space CCTV, security for public buildings, traffic management, and police intelligence.

Abu Dhabi's drive for a sustainable and smart city

Similarly, the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 seeks to transform the emirate's economy. The UAE capital was ranked as the smartest city in the MENA region for the second year, running by the Smart City Index 2021, produced by the Institute for Management Development and Singapore University of Technology and Design.

Masdar City in Abu Dhabi represents the first attempt in the Middle East to build such a truly sustainable city. Beyond the UAE, smart city developments in Egypt's New Administrative Capital and Saudi Arabia's ambitious giga-project NEOM provide regional expansion opportunities for start-ups.

Challenges and solutions in smart city real estate development

As cities undergo digital transformation, the real estate sector grapples with its set of unique challenges:

  • Integration with legacy systems: Many cities have old infrastructures. Integrating smart technology without a complete overhaul is complex and often costly.
  • Data privacy: With sensors and data-driven decisions at the core of smart cities, there's a heightened risk of data breaches and privacy concerns.
  • Cost of implementation: Establishing a fully integrated smart city requires significant capital, and the ROI is often long-term.


Cities like Bristol have established 'living labs' where real-world environments are used to test and refine solutions. Bristol's 'City Experimentation as a Service' provides a testbed for innovators to develop solutions, helping to address some of these challenges.

A glimpse into the future: Emerging trends

The next decade promises accelerated advancements in the realm of smart cities:

  • Digital twins: A complete digital replica of physical assets; these can be used to run simulations and predict future scenarios. Singapore, for instance, is developing a digital twin of the entire city to optimise urban planning and predict future challenges.
  • Urban mobility: The proliferation of electric vehicles, car-sharing platforms, and autonomous vehicles will reshape city transport. London's commitment to create a zero-emission zone in the city centre by 2025 is an example of this trend in action.
  • Sustainable infrastructure: With a global emphasis on sustainability, cities will focus on green buildings, renewable energy sources, and efficient waste management systems.

 A study by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers suggests that the integration of such technologies could reduce a city's energy consumption by up to 30%.

The vital bridge: Consultants in real estate development

Real estate consultants act as bridges in the nexus of real estate and smart city evolution. They ensure developments generate profit and resonate with a city's smart vision. They provide insights into market dynamics, regulatory landscapes, and risk assessments, all while keeping a pulse on technological advancements.

For senior executives helming conglomerates, the synergy between real estate development and smart city trends isn't just a point of interest—it's a strategic imperative. Making informed decisions in this space can mean the difference between a development's success and its obsolescence.

Concluding thoughts

The real estate sector's role is pivotal as we stand on the cusp of a smart city revolution. Embracing the changes, understanding the challenges, and innovating for the future will be the hallmarks of success in this new urban age.