Globally, cities have a long history of fostering social and practical innovation. New technology has enabled cities to evolve and reinvent themselves, fostering a better quality of life for their inhabitants in the face of huge social, environmental and technological upheaval.

An understanding of an area’s demographic, problems, capabilities and environmental constraints could play a key role in informing the design and planning of cities to enable as many people as possible to achieve a fulfilling, social and active life.

The planning of cities has already been transformed and can go much further with the right resources in place. Pen and paper has long been supplanted in most cities by a wide range of electronic data devices, geographic information systems, satellite mapping and visualisation software. These offer urban planners and designers a deeper insight into human behaviour as well as a greater understanding of the physical attributes of sites, to inform design and how it is delivered. As the technology becomes more sophisticated, these new approaches can combine to create place-based design approaches that, for example, address the health and environmental impacts of cities by integrating routes which will make it more likely city residents walk and cycle as well improving public transport, making denser development and more compact spaces more appealing to potential residents.

New approaches are also enabling architects and planners to better understand how cities impact their environments. Increasing the use of natural features helps reduce flooding by improving sustainable drainage, and prevents cities from overheating. Incorporating green infrastructure also helps to support mental wellbeing, thereby, also yielding savings in future health budgets.

Technology can help plan growth in a more integrated way – addressing societal, environmental and design issues across a range of locations. Interesting examples can be seen in cities such as Rio de Janeiro which is pioneering new digital transport and governance systems, through a citywide operation centre that connects all the city’s 30 agencies, from transport to the emergency services. On a day-to-day basis, It helps officials from across the city collaborate on running public services more smoothly and efficiently. In the event of crisis, such as a collapsing building, the operation centre helps roll out a coordinated response. Transport systems can be shut down, emergency services mobilised and gas supplies can be cut off, while citizens can be informed of alternative routes via Twitter.

Cities are also starting to use digital platforms to better plan for the future and encourage public engagement in the future of their cities. In Asia a number of emerging cities are working with partners to develop models for sustainable growth that learn from the current generation of cities.

Developing these models further will be crucial to generate popular support if the city of 2025 is to benefit from new approaches. In the UK RIBA has explored the idea of a digitised planning system, using new technology and big data to support strategic planning of a city and help improve public engagement with the process. Public consultation software, online forums and social media are now increasingly used to capture public opinion to test ideas, evolve proposals and disseminate information.

New approaches can also inform the way we design for an ageing population. Urban design can help older people live healthier and more socially active lives by creating more inclusive spaces. Their wellbeing can be enhanced by designing affordable, accessible, well-connected housing that connects with local amenities more directly.

Understanding this group’s needs will increasingly become more important at the city-scale to help local authorities develop innovative housing that can bring out the most of older people but also impact on younger age groups in a very positive way. Designing inclusively for all generations is the way to create successful integrated communities.