If a strong global commitment to sustainable development and tackling climate change is set in 2015, and bold leadership and new technology is fostered by national and local governments; the city could start to look completely different by 2025. Cities can become cleaner, greener, healthier and more pleasant places to live, while still driving economic growth and fostering innovation.
This comes with a significant caveat. Creating new places proactively and with future changes in mind will require a culture shift within those who plan, build and design our cities.
In planning, more multi-disciplinary thinking will need to be applied to urban development strategies and design, to ensure a variety of changes can be accounted for and addressed. Greater participation from the public will be required to gain a deeper insight into their needs and preferences. In an era where the public voice is becoming easier to access and harder to suppress, it will become increasingly hard to generate support for new initiatives without taking public views into account. The era when planners, architects and builders could create new cities from a blank canvas without heed to the social or environmental impacts is over. City leaders, planners and designers will need to incorporate continuous feedback loops that provide information about a range of social, economic and environmental changes into their thinking to maintain public and political support.
Modelling and testing various approaches will be important to arrive at the optimal design or policy intervention. This will not only require new technologies to aid this process, but also a willingness among local and central governments to adopt longer-term development approaches, and to increase public participation in design and planning processes.
In construction, this will necessitate a shift to a circular economy that is restorative, both naturally (e.g. one that replenishes fresh drinking water) and technically (e.g. building materials can be reused without polluting the environment). Buildings would also have to be built to anticipate future change, rather than using design standards based on existing conditions. History has taught us that the cities which fail to react to the changing world face decline. With the tools at their disposal today, cities have never been better equipped to rise to the challenge. Their success in 2025 and beyond will be determined by how well they do so.