The Cities of Tomorrow

The world changed in 2008 – for the first time in human history, more people were living in cities than in the countryside. With around 1.4 million people a week moving from the country to the city, it’s estimated by 2030 two thirds of the world’s population will be urban. What will these huge mega-cities be like ?

The evocative title: Cities of the Future, might conjure up images of Star Trek like, gleaming high technology environments – but for most of their inhabitants, these cities of the future will be very different.

The three books below all give fascinating insights to how this urban future is likely to look.

Shadow Cities: A New Urban World by Robert Neuwirth

Robert Neuwirth takes us into four of the world’s largest and densest squatter cities, in Mumbai, Nairobi, Rio and Istanbul. Far from being the stereotypical cauldrons of destitution, crime and violence, these complex environments are instead full of energy, creativity and vitality, with a surprisingly high degree of self-governance.

But these rapidly growing cities also face tremendous challenges; including lack of water supplies, drainage, lack of affordable transport and other infrastructure, as well as vulnerability to flooding and other environmental problems, lack of health care and effective policing. In addition two problems faced by dwellers of squatter communities worldwide are the absence of land rights and security of tenure, and lack of political access and representation.

But bit by bit, these communities and neighborhoods are developing, with businesses, schools, medical facilities, transport systems and all kinds of supporting infrastructure being created by their hard working and hope filled inhabitants.

Rob writes regularly on the issues facing squatters and the development of squatter cities on his blog: Squattercity. [AMAZON]

Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser

As well as publishing influential studies on social inequality, the renowned economist Edward Glaeser is a strong advocate of cities – both for their reducing effect on individual environmental footprints, and also for their ability to bring people and communities together, enhancing communication and generating prosperity and ideas.

He argues that cities are particularly advantageous for the richest and poorest in society, as they provide more opportunities for both the rich to spend their wealth, and for the poor to become richer. In many cities, he argues, the presence of large numbers of urban poor does not necessarily indicate urban failure, but rather that poorer people are attracted to a vibrant city, with the prospect of a more prosperous life.

Although cities offer the best long term prospects for the future, there are many problems and challenges to be overcome – “the problems of the urban slums won’t be solved by mindlessly relying on the free market” he writes, strong and capable governments are needed to provide essential systems and infrastructure, like policing and water. [AMAZON]

Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand

The sub title of Stewart Brand’s book is: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, Radical Science and Geoengineering are Necessary – which he accepts enthuses and enrages sections of the environmental movement in roughly equal measure. One of his best known quotes is “technology can be good for the environment”.

A champion of progressive urbanism (and tug-boat dweller), Stewart writes about how cities tend to be far ‘greener’ than the countryside, across multiple indicators – energy use per capita, water use per capita, land take per capita, recycling rates per capita etc.

He argues in his book that the squatter inhabitants of rapidly growing cities have informal economies that are largely untaxed, unregulated and unlicensed – and over time these economies have to be amalgamated into the wider ‘legal’ economies, or they risk becoming amalgamated into a culture of crime. He also champions the advantages of density and proximity – amazingly shown in the third video below (at 6:00 minutes). [AMAZON]

Similar articles – Living on a Landfill, Life in Mathare

Photo by Godwin B, via Flickr

Green Roofs

Covering a building’s roof with grass or vegetation to create a Green Roof isn’t a new idea, the so called sod churches and farms of Iceland and Norway, used peat and turf as roofing materials as far back as the 18th Century.

Modern greenroofs have been incorporated onto everything from domestic housing to high rise office blocks, and confer many advantages – including absorbing water to reduce storm water run-off and flash flooding risk, providing good insulation properties, reducing urban heat island effects, and providing a much needed addition to ecological habitat in many urban settings.

In addition they also look nice !

More and more designers and architects are using greenroofs, in both traditional and non-traditional structures. The world’s largest can currently be found on the Ford factory in Michigan.

Small build, or even DIY, installations of greenroofs on domestic homes, garages and sheds is becoming more and more popular, and a wide array of advice and support is available, as are a number of ready made kits !


Similar articles – The Vertical Farm, The Brighton Earthship

Photo by Renate Oberinger, via Wikicommons