Transitioning of Urban Infrastructure Systems in the City of the Future

The need for UIS transition is illustrated by the facts that the earth system is undergoing significant rapid changes which have developed from increased human activities, population growth and urbanization (Vairavamoorthy et al., 2008). Whereas 48% of the world’s population presently live in cities and towns, this proportion is expected to increase to about 60% in the year 2030 aggravating the need for the transition of existing systems. Further more in developing countries the urban population is predicted to grow from 1.9 billion in 2000 to 3.9 billion in 2030, averaging 2.3% per year. In addition in developed countries, the urban population is expected to increase, from 0.9 billion in 2000 to 1 billion in 2030 with an overall growth rate of 1%. On the other hand, existing infrastructure systems have been gradually deteriorating due to environmental action and ageing; in many cases significantly exceeding their design life leading to failure to meet the minimum level of service.

With increasing global change pressures cities of the future will experience difficulties in efficiently managing scarcer and less reliable UIS. In order to meet these challenges there is a need for a fundamental change in the way we manage urban infrastructure. The current models of urban infrastructure systems, and their corresponding infrastructure, originates from the 19th century, when populations were relatively small, and there was a view that resources were in abundance and the environment benign. Today, cities all over the world are facing a range of dynamic regional and global pressures, such as climate change, population growth, urbanization, deterioration of urban infrastructure systems and more. Due to these pressures cities of the future will experience difficulties in efficiently managing these infrastructure systems.

To ensure a more sustainable future there is a need for more drastic measures. Technology breakthroughs and innovative designs need to be coupled with comprehensive system changes to the urban processes, institutions, and regulations that ultimately shape our cities. Cities will be faced with difficult future strategic decisions (e.g. the choice between centralised and the decentralised systems; the choice regarding the level of involvement of individual citizens, NGOs and companies; the choice between an institutional framework where separate institutions are responsible for a certain element of the urban infrastructure system or moving towards a more integrated institutional set-up). Hence it is likely that future desired UIS will look and operate differently to existing ones and will be managed and financed differently.

A major challenge for most cities will be to establish a process for transitioning from their present situation to the desired future endpoint (transitioning describes the path taken to get from the present situation to the desired future state). Transitioning can be viewed as the long term phased gradual change of the state of a system leading to a radically new system (optimised future system).

Proposed Research

The proposed research aims to develop methods and techniques for the long term continuous phased change of existing urban infrastructure systems and their associated governance and financial models, to an optimized future system. The developed methods and techniques will permit all stakeholders in cities to explore effectively the benefits or disadvantages of alternative strategies during and after transition. Methods must explore not only the technical and environmental aspects but also social and economic aspects.

The main objectives of this research include:

  • The development of a transitioning model based on dynamic graph theory and morphing algorithms (affine, bilinear cross dissolving transformations).
  • The development of a multi-objective optimisation tool that maximizes urban infrastructure system transition score (UWTS) whilst minimizing costs and risks associated with transitioning.
  • The development of a spacial decision support system that incorporates the components above into a visualization platform.
  • The spatial decision support system developed in this research will be used by all relevant stakeholders to visually explore transition options for UIS.

Research Framework

Transistioning Urban Infrastructure

Figure 1: Transition Research Methodology

Research Tracks

  • State of the Art Literature Review
  • Developing UIS Transition Pathways
  • Modeling the Transition of UIS


Publications * Sempewo, J., Vairavamoorthy, K., and Frank, G. (2010) Transitioning of Urban Water Distribution Systems. World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2010: Challenges of Change, Providence, Rhode Island, USA, 372.

Other links