As a futurist, what intrigues me about the future is the fact that we can freely replace one future with another and fearlessly explore decades, even centuries, ahead. Futurists are large-pattern, context-oriented. Time is our domain; we think in terms of decades more than years.
I marry these two methods to try to understand where our cities are headed. This month, I offer you an alphabet of future cities, twenty-six slices that reveal, explore, and imagine what we might build and how we might live, work, and play in 2020, 2030, or 2050.
Sound like fun?
If you track urban development, you hear a lot of the same concepts. Walkable, livable, quality of life (QOL), redensify, green/LEED/BREEAM buildings, green cities, smart cities, smart growth, smart grid, new urbanism, mixed use, complete streets, car-free, bike highways, bus rapid transit (BRT), transit oriented design, transect zoning, multi-modal transportation. Rather than being “the future,” these ideas are happening in some cities today, so-called ‘used futures’.
- Our most advanced, high performing cities are technology-intense. In these gazelle cities, people believe innovation is part of their DNA. They aim to show the rest of the world how to build, more specifically, how to live. New transportation, environmental, and communication methods take root. Hi-tech companies and creative people flock to these Meccas.
- On the other end of the spectrum in African, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian cities, people wish for indoor plumbing, clean water, fresh air. The same enemies that London and New York conquered in the 1800s strangle the people of Lagos and New Delhi today but at a mind-boggling scale.
It’s not all about resources and technology.
Paradoxically primitive sometimes works better than intensive technology. The current generation may be the first to employ just-right-tech or even un-tech. As a new form of intelligence, future gens will know when to switch off. Similarly for cities, high-rise, high-speed tech is not always the most livable, functional, beautiful, or viable response.
What will we do?
the cities of emerging economies, half in slums and nearly all in poverty. In contrast, western countries are faced with aging infrastructure and older populations. America is expected to grow by as much as one hundred million people, one-third as immigrants.
It’s said that this is the century of urbanization. In 2007, for the first time in history, the majority of people live in cities. We built American cities according to what we knew in 1950, just as Europe built cities with technologies and lifestyles of prior centuries. Now we know more.
- Unlike any other time in history, cities and buildings are ready to be more than a roof and four walls. They can expand our quality of life or destroy it. Beyond shelter, buildings and cities can feed our spirits and replenish the environment. Or they can be a curse, a deathtrap, a monstrous albatross.
In ten, twenty, thirty years, how will you build, work or live differently? What will it mean to your children or to their children? Will your city, your neighborhood, your home feed your soul or anger you?
Imagine if you were suddenly transported to 1950. Would you support the Federal Highway Act? The Urban Renewal Act? Removal of trolleys and cable car systems? All of these decisions shaped how we live today. In hindsight, what would you do?
Standing in 2011, we have equally momentous choices. Maybe even bigger. January 1, let’s begin: A is for Artificial Intelligence.