Most cities are growing rapidly and by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population—about 6.5 billion people—are expected to live in urban centres. This rapid growth is particularly acute in developing countries in Africa and Asia.
For many, a move to the city brings greater opportunities for employment and access to better services, healthcare, and education, helping to fuel growth. This growth, however, also brings significant challenges, such as pressure on natural resources, waste and pollution, sanitation, energy, and social stability.
Sunway University has been working with Lancaster University, UK for almost 15 years, offering high-quality dual Sunway-Lancaster degrees and master’s programmes. In 2019, we launched a new, joint research institute aimed at exploring solutions to the global challenges of increasing urbanisation: the Future Cities Research Institute (FCRI).
The FCRI is based in Sunway City, but brings together multidisciplinary teams of researchers from Sunway and Lancaster, as well as other collaborators from around the world. Our objectives are to study the impact of urbanisation and to work with governments, industry, and the voluntary sectors to explore the complex problems of rapid urbanisation and to develop effective solutions.
We are currently focusing on two main themes of research: Digital Cities and Sustainable Cities. There are plans to establish a third theme, Liveable Cities, later on.
In Digital Cities, we look at how cities and the individuals in them are connected digitally, and how this connectivity can improve lives, make cities more efficient, and reduce pressure on services.
As I write, Malaysia, like much of the world, is on lockdown to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Like many people, I am working with colleagues, teaching students and helping to manage the university, all from the comfort of my armchair.
If we had been faced with this situation 20 years ago, before the age when the vast majority of households had access to reliable high-speed wi-fi and smartphones, I doubt very much if any of what we are now doing would have been possible.
There are many uncertainties with the COVID-19 crisis, but one thing is certain—the world will emerge from it in a different place. Researchers in FCRI are already contemplating how our lives may change, with a clear focus on how we can ensure that the “new normal” is a more sustainable one.
In Sustainable Cities, we look at how we can make better use of the limited natural resources available to us, and how to minimise our environmental impact. One particular issue we are focusing on is plastic waste.
South East Asia is a significant source of plastic waste and is also one of the regions most affected by it. We are analysing the problem from a variety of angles, from the economics of plastics, through their use, to disposal and clean-up. One group is looking at our changing views towards the use of plastics and seeking ways to harness growing concerns to influence behaviour, from governments to individuals.
The Liveable Cities theme will focus on crucial human-centric issues, such as robust and complete neighbourhoods, accessibility and sustainable mobility, a diverse and resilient local economy, vibrant public spaces, and affordability. These criteria are used in the ranking of cities across the world, and one of our key aims is to help Sunway City and Lancaster to be ranked among the top liveable cities in the world.
Together, Sunway and Lancaster universities are investing more than RM 25 million over the next five years in the FCRI, including joint appointments, research studentships, and money to pump-prime novel avenues of research. We envisage that the FCRI will make a major, positive impact on lives around the world.