June 1, 2010

Cities of the Future

Cities – The Global Challenges

The Future Agenda programme has published a thoughtful paper on cities of the future.

"The big issues facing cities are clear: Think globalisation, immigration, jobs, social exclusion and sustainability: Given that global urbanisation is taking place at an unprecedented speed with a scale, diversity, complexity and level of connectivity that challenges all existing perceptions, questions regarding the size, speed of growth, shape and land use of cities have become increasingly complex and politicised. Although cities themselves have a remarkable ability to innovate, there are broad disconnects between urban change and urban policy. The priority, therefore, must be to identify ways in which policy makers can create a regulatory environment that provides a framework for sustainable forms of urban development.
Urban growth is being fuelled by new levels of mobility and migration of diverse populations within and across nations especially in China, Brazil and India. These rural-to-urban migrants are pulled by the tantalizing prospects of jobs and opportunity, driven by the harsh realities of rural life. Cities like Mumbai experience 42 people moving into the city per hour. Where do you house them and what infrastructure do you provide for them? Transport, electricity, sewers and water systems – these are technical issues that need to be addressed in a way that is environmentally smart.
Migration and in-migration has also created an urban underclass which is often allocated to specific areas of the city. Paris is a perfect example. The physical infrastructure, with the beauty and qualities that we all admire, has frozen. This means that all its growth (with increasing immigration from 1945 and onward) has created ghettoization.  This kind of imbalance in social mobility must be addressed.
The changing nature of work will also impact on the physical form of cities. The global economy was born out of the power of trans-national corporations and global communications technologies.  How does it affect the way we live?  If we focus on the fact that power and communications capacities need to be produced, implemented and managed, it becomes clear that cities still have an important role to play but their layout and functionality may be different.
Even the most advanced firms need cleaners, lorry drivers, and secretaries. How must cities adapt to fit the needs of all? Also how do we adapt to the possibility that we are seeing an internationalised labour market for low wage manual and service workers? How do we adapt housing design and create neighbourhoods that will benefit local communities and encourage urban integration?
Technological innovation has shrunk the world reducing the cost of transmitting to virtually nothing.  Internet users in developing countries could constitute more than half the world total within 5 years if trends persist.  The reality of urban connectivity taken to its logical conclusion will create a network of interlinked cities connected, and soon to be even more connected, by modern rails and technology. Consider also the effects of mobility and transport systems on social cohesion and economic viability.
Lastly, any future urban model must of course be sustainable.  If we are to make up for past failures, cities will have to produce more energy than they need, become net carbon absorbers, collect and process waste within city limits and collect and clean recycled water. All this should happen in parallel to the creation of wealth and the promotion of social wellbeing and individual health."

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