TMCnet Feature
November 19, 2019

Richmond Hill's Cindy Chong Shares an Overview of Civil Engineering Obstacles and Strategies

Civil engineering is an essential practice that dates back to Ancient Egypt. The world continues to evolve, which presents unique challenges for civil engineers, who must constantly adjust their strategies to meet the ever-increasing demand for infrastructure.

Today, not only do civil engineers need to focus on infrastructure that's stronger, they also have to consider the environmental impacts of their designs. While they need to think about the future and how to meet the needs of growing cities, they also need to address existing aging infrastructure, which is quickly growing in supply. Cindy Chong, a civil engineer from Richmond Hill in the Greater Toronto Area, addresses the challenges presented by civil engineering.

Designing for Climate Change

Regardless of whether engineers embrace the climate crisis, they still have to deal with the fact that the world is getting warmer, storm systems are getting stronger, and sea levels are rising.

There are a number of other factors that could be connected to climate change that have been identified as major challenges for civil engineers. For example, aside from estimating the rise of sea levels, engineers also have to consider soil erosion and the resilience of infrastructure in the face of disasters.

That being said, the way infrastructure is designed is changing, driven partly by natural disasters that have plagued the world in recent years and caused billions of dollars in damages to assets. For example, in cities that are prone to flooding, planning now increasingly involves building elevated structures to minimize the risk of damage.

To improve resilience of bridges to withstand storms, researchers are experimenting with a new type of design that uses concrete-filled, fiber-reinforced polymer tubes in place of traditional reinforced concrete. Other engineers in the UK are looking at bridge designs that mimic a human spine, which can also help reduce corrosion from the elements in countries that have cold winters.

Creating Sustainable Buildings

Energy consumption in buildings currently accounts for about a third of greenhouse gases that are tied to climate change and this impact is expected to continuously rise. This presents civil engineers with a unique challenge and opportunity to mitigate this problem.

From a design perspective, engineers can make better use of sunlight and incorporate natural ventilations to help lower the energy consumption of a structure. Cindy Chong of Richmond Hill points to Toronto’s Green Roof Policy, through which Toronto became the first city in North America to require the installation of green roofs on new developments across the city. Green roofs are rooftops that are partially or completely covered with vegetation. In addition to reducing stormwater run-off, green roofs also reduce energy consumption by acting as natural ventilation systems.

Keeping Up with Failing Infrastructure

Another issue that civil engineers face is aging infrastructure. The challenge entails assessing whether outdated infrastructure should be retained, or if alternatives should be put in its place.

Not only does crumbling infrastructure need to be examined from a safety standpoint, but also from a financial one. For example, in 2018 it was announced that Toronto would be investing $720 million to improve the city’s aging infrastructure.

Cindy Chong of Richmond Hill notes that a possible solution to these types of financial hurdles is to tap into public-private partnerships to help offset some of the costs of the reconstruction efforts. The partnership puts more ownership on the ongoing maintenance and operation of the infrastructure from the private firm that builds it, creating more incentive for higher quality initial construction.

Embracing Technology

The American Society of Civil Engineers identified a number of grand challenges faced by the civil engineering field, and noted that data sensing and analysis could help aid in monitoring the health of existing infrastructure as well as improving construction practices.

Through the use of computerized geographic information systems (GIS) civil engineers are able to collect key data before beginning a project. By using equipment armed with sensors, engineers can then layer information on top of a model to give them a better idea of how a structure would function within different parameters.

This form of data collection can help engineers predict traffic flow and decide where best to place a bridge in the future, for example. It can also help with terrain mapping to learn about soil quality and even underground features that aren't easy to detect through conventional methods.

To get ahead of climate change, Cindy Chong says that some engineers are using long-term trends to predict possible impacts. A group of engineers recently experimented with this concept by using computer models with a predetermined set of criteria, and predicted a rise in global temperature by about 4C by the year 2100.

Civil Engineers Are Leading Cities Into The Future

Cindy Chong of Richmond Hill sees the role of civil engineers becoming more important than ever to find a balance between creating infrastructure to meet demands of growing cities like Toronto, while also keeping climate-related and financial considerations in mind.

While aging infrastructure needs to be maintained or replaced, new sustainable design ideas are coming from the engineering world that will help weather the storm heading into the future.

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