It’s 2050 and 68 percent of the earth’s population—6.5 billion people—are urban. Well-managed cities are offering millions more people boundless cultural, social and economic opportunities. These are healthy, vibrant and equitable societies which have left no-one behind. And this was how one of them did it.
Residential apartmentsResidential apartments are designed with eco-friendly renewable materials to maximize energy efficiency and quality of life.
Green, residential apartments save on energy and water. Smart thermostats and wifi-connected controls keep energy use in check. Outdoors, vertical plants shade windows in the summer and let warmth in during winter. Neighbours have foregone separate laundries in favour of a communal space where they can socialize. Rooftops have clothes lines, solar panels, raised garden beds, and water collection. Underground car parks have been replaced by bicycle storage.
Vertical and urban farmingDemand for food has turned cities into places where fresh produce is grown.
Vertical and urban farming has changed the ‘concrete jungle’. Customers get fresher, more diverse and healthy produce which hasn’t travelled thousands of miles. Food waste from spoilage is minimal. Crops grown in vertical farms indoors are safe from extreme weather and have created decent jobs. Urban farms are havens for bees, bats and birds. They beautify vacant lots, encourage composting, and foster community spirit. Organic city farming has improved our air quality and our physical and mental health.
City buildingsCity buildings are sustainable, environmentally friendly and carbon neutral.
City buildings don’t emit carbon. They capture solar and wind power. They have efficient lighting, energy renewing elevators, underground heat storage, and water catchment. There are green spaces in the lobbies, green roofs which improve insulation, sky gardens and vertical farms, which use captured rainwater. They are zoned mixed-use, combining hotels, residences, restaurants, and gyms, which protects investment against financial shocks. Many are constructed with self-healing concrete.
Underground roadsWith urban environments built out, the next step was down.
Underground roads have eased traffic congestion on crowded city streets. They have cut pollution and made cities more sociable because urban spaces are now largely for pedestrians and cyclists. Modern ventilation systems meet stringent air quality standards and motorists get to their destinations with the minimum of congestion. The roads, built deep underground so that they don’t affect existing infrastructure, have created jobs and connected communities along their routes. They have become an efficient answer to urban congestion, as well as making a cleaner and more hospitable space for residents and motorists.
Bike lanes and footpathsHealthy transportation alternatives have reduced ‘car culture’.
In the past, city streets were designed primarily for the car. This was the wrong approach. Whether from pollution or crashes, car dominance killed millions of people and thoughtless design was unjust and unsafe for those who couldn’t afford to drive. City design that puts pedestrians and bikes first has had many benefits, especially for those living with disabilities. Cities have become more accessible for all. We’re healthier because we get more exercise and don’t breathe polluted air. Local businesses have thrived because pedestrians and cyclists are more likely to stop in and shop. Our skies are clear and smog is a distant memory.
Sky trainsRapid light transit gets people to their destinations faster.
Sky trains have become indispensable to city life. They are a cost-effective way to increase public transport options while not contributing to congestion, both while they are being built and after they become operational. Powered by renewable electricity, they are carbon neutral. And because they can rapidly connect outlying urban areas they have improved citizens’ opportunities for affordable housing. Their reliability and convenience has encouraged people to get out of their cars and use more active and sustainable modes of transport.
Shared workspacesCollaborative workspaces offer cost-effective, environmentally-friendly business options.
Shared spaces offer all the conveniences of an office environment along with flexibility, cooperation and community. The space is static but the occupants come and go, according to their needs. Employees working remotely and startups can keep overheads low by only renting the space they need, when they need it. They can use the space for meeting with clients or collaborating with others. Bonus: the coffee is free!
Trees, parks, nature and outside city forestsParks are not luxuries for gated communities. Our city provides all with the means to enjoy quiet moments.
Trees and other plants store carbon and beautify their surroundings. Children play and families safely enjoy the health and mental benefits of nature. Our parks increase property values, reduce crime, create community spirit, reduce physical and mental health problems and boost investment and job opportunities. They mitigate flooding and stormwater damage, increasing resilience to natural shocks. They are vital for reducing the ‘heat island’ effect. And in connecting with the periphery, city parks became part of the urban-rural continuum, with thriving connections to surroundings rural communities.
Music and arts open spacesPublic spaces are inviting, equitable and contribute to the artistic life of the communities who build them.
Art and music open spaces have promoted inclusivity and equality and contribute to the vibrancy of an urban space. People meet and socialize, and the surrounding small businesses have benefitted from foot traffic. Public art has reduced stress, promoted mental health, and provided a sense of belonging and civic pride. Cultural drawcards have brought a tremendous economic benefit to cities, attracting tourists, creating jobs, and contributing to the collective achievements of humankind.
Digital kiosksInteractive public computer terminals reduce the digital divide.
Placed in high traffic areas, and institutions such as government departments and universities, digital kiosks deliver information quickly and conveniently. As well as public internet access, they increase community spirit and provide a variety of services. People use them to check out library books, research products they are thinking of buying, get information about government services, and securely pay their utility bills.
Waste management recycling and water treatmentWith a fully circular economy, waste is virtually eliminated and resources are continuously used.
The transition from a ‘use and dispose’ linear to a circular economy has created millions of jobs in recycling and eliminated the health and environmental hazards from the incorrect disposal of waste. Single use plastic has gone the way of the dodo. Community composting depots collect food waste and turn it into nutrient-laden soil for urban gardens. Where possible, water is conserved to be reused. Waste water, grey water and storm water is collected and treated, and losses from pipe leakage are eliminated.
Mobile health clinicsHealthcare for all became a reality, as clinics travel to where they are needed.
Mobile health clinics are accessible to all. Advances in technology are bringing examination rooms, dental offices and even research labs on the road. Patient information is stored online and is readily available. The mobile clinic is paperless, which makes it more efficient and reduces the risk of losing patient files. Mobile clinics are especially important for underserved communities and for those with mobility challenges.
Riverways and green ports and coral reefsCities with coastlines know that a healthy, sustainable environment doesn’t end at the water’s edge.
With the huge importance of international shipping, ports offered significant opportunities to meet climate targets. Reduced ship waiting times, switching from diesel to electric power, and careful management of water and nearby wetlands, and the fauna who live there, has made our ports prosperous and green. Riverways are protected from chemical pollutants and ‘living’ shorelines prevent erosion and foster wildlife. Our healthy and protected coral reefs draw tourists, protect the coastline, and fix carbon and nitrogen.
Water harvestingAs fresh water became increasingly valuable, we explored new—and old—ways to capture it.
Rainwater harvesting began in the Neolithic age; all we have done is refine the techniques, making our cities even more resilient. Water is collected on rooftop terraces and courtyards, stored, and treated for drinking, washing and groundwater recharge. This has also meant a reduction in stormwater, and its resulting damage—pollution, flooding, increased health risks, and decreased income from tourism. In harvesting fog, large sheets of vertical canvas capture droplets which flow down into a trough below.
Renewable energyWhen the Sustainable Development Goals were created, cities were one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide.
Although they occupied just three percent of the world’s surface, cities accounted for at least 70 percent of carbon emissions. They are now carbon neutral, thanks to an extensive network of solar and wind-powered generators. Solar power is captured through public solar ‘trees’—which residents can use to charge handheld devices—from solar fields, and from ‘micro communities’ where panels are installed on commercial buildings. Micro wind turbines are more suited to urban landscapes and wind patterns. Both solar and wind power provide clean energy and have created rewarding new jobs.
Inventing the futureCities are one of humankind’s greatest inventions; they led to the creation of writing, art, architecture, drama, science and philosophy.
From the very start, they evolved and adapted to the specific cultural and economic needs of their citizens. And in the first part of the 21st century another evolutionary pressure came into play; we needed a completely new approach to meet the challenges of climate change, growing populations, widening inequalities and dwindling natural resources. Fortunately, solutions were available to be taken and adapted to each city, and opportunities were waiting to be unlocked.