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.

  • Future Agenda

    Responsive Cities

    Some of the IDE RCA/LSE students who attended a Future Agenda workshop at the Shard recently focussed on the future of cities. They suggested that the ambition for 2025 was to get the same quality of
    infrastructure in rural communities as there is in cities. They called this De-Urbanisation.

    They also recognised that there is a general human need to belong and to address this small communities exist in mega cities providing a sense of community and social well-being. Looking ahead they envisaged more responsive cities that lets communities mould their neighbourhoods. Crowd sourcing would enable ‘pop up economies” where communities will pool resources and share needs thus reducing the need for child care/care for the elderly for example and increasing the collective output. The downside of this
    is that each community creates its own identity making the “them and us” more obvious.

    To complement the pop up economies students saw that many cities have become HubHops, where cultures have merged and technology has become so sophisticated that they are simply homes from home for the nomadic global citizen. There were also conversations around the reduced influence of national identity, the need for a global currency (such as bitcoin) and a suggestion that taking away cultural
    influences would help reduce the risk of conflict. This was countered by the acknowledgement that cultural differences add enjoyment and variety to life.

    A key question coming out of this discussion was what happens when the city becomes so transient that no one takes overall responsibility for its infrastructure?

    IDE/LSE students looked at how politics could be better managed in a city environment and came up with the idea of People Powered Planning. They suggested that politicians should react to public demand and become more available to public scrutiny. They suggested that a SIM city would allow democracy to work more effectively with voters being able to have immediate impact on policy by using the same model as reality shows, using online voting channels alongside happiness monitors. Politicians would be obliged to come out of their central offices and face the people in glass boxes where they could better respond directly to challenges from their electorate.