The Future of Urban Design
The future of cities
We are now experiencing the biggest wave of urbanization yet, or a movement back to the cities and the resulting urban gentrification. The factors behind this resurgence in preference for urban environments have to do with availability of jobs, cost of living, and a general preference for a more minimalistic, yet cosmopolitan way of life that suburbs and villages don’t offer. The working population of today can do without the big SUVs that their parents used to drive, and without the expensive mortgages for the 5-bedroom, 2-car garage, terraced houses they grew up in. What they can’t contend living without, however, are Sunday brunches, yoga classes and scooters like those offered by Bird.
The cities of today have new residents to serve and new expectations to meet, and they’re already changing the way urban planning is conducted. They no longer serve as plain parking lots for those commuting for the day – they have new sets of challenges to solve, figuring out how to be livable yet clean, dynamic yet comfortable, connected yet tranquil.
Smart technology as the base of futuristic design
The first wave of urbanization coincided with the industrial revolution, lasting roughly from 1750 to 1950. During this time, the amount of people living in cities worldwide increased from 15 million to 423 million. Back then, the goal of urban design was to provide basic relief from the pressure on cities by the massive influx of newcomers, namely in the form of building sewers, accounting for proper garbage disposal, and reducing the spread of diseases.
The second wave came after the 1960s, when urbanization accelerated in developing markets, along with job growth and income gains.
Today, we are experiencing the third wave of urban migration, which involves growth in cities on the African and Asian continents and places ever more ambitious goals for urban planning efforts. On one hand, urban centers still need to keep up with the growing numbers of incoming residents and tourists, while preserving resources like electricity, water and gas, ensuring everyone’s safety, and maintaining standards for the quality of air.
On top of the basics, smart urban design must also allow for adequate relaxation, exercise and wellness opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Composting, recycling and upcycling are trends playing a large role in urban societies today. Technology is already helping solve some of these challenges, whether it’s with resource-preserving initiatives and apps or by providing platforms where clothes, furniture and appliances can be swapped, given away, or properly recycled.
Practical implications of technology in urbanization
As much of the developed world continues to urbanize, the need for food, shelter, energy and healthcare will keep on increasing, placing higher stress on already strapped ecosystems and a changing climate. Homelessness and poverty are the other side of the urbanization coin, and they are perpetuated by higher growth and rising rent prices.
Despite growing demands on urban centers worldwide, the outlook for the future is very optimistic, thanks to advances brought on by the digital age. When correctly applied to solving these big societal challenges, new technology has the potential to further fuel employment growth, eliminate poverty, and help build wealth. IoT sensors, smart devices, facial recognition, AI, and big data mining are only some of the tech concepts that can be successfully applied to solving the urban challenges of the future. The more data we generate and process, the more intelligent our decision-making and policy setting processes will be, too.
New modes of transport and energy sources
As urban dwellers and urban planners scramble to get on top of the air pollution fight, alternative methods of transportation like electric bikes, manual scooters and e-mopeds are becoming mainstream, encouraged by the growing availability of bike lanes and the increasing lack of inner-city parking space for full-sized vehicles. In Europe, Norway is leading the way towards establishing electric vehicles as the primary mode of urban transportation by introducing city-wide policies and tax breaks that encourage their purchases.
Ride sharing providers like Uber, Grab and Lyft help reduce emissions and traffic; car sharing companies in turn reduce the need to own a car, and the advances in electric vehicles, coupled with more reasonable prices make more people likely to acquire one when the time is right.
Smart cities bet on nature
We have seen cities like New York and Paris transforming old railroads into urban parks that instill tranquility and calm amid the urban chaos, and cities like Singapore integrating nature with technology in their Gardens by the Bay park made of solar-powered supertrees, where wildlife likes to congregate. These are just some examples of future-forward urban design, where nature, technology and people collide to create something extraordinary that looks like a scene from the film Avatar.
It’s hard to imagine what cities will look like in 2050. One thing is for sure – they need to be more resilient, less wasteful, cleaner and more livable for their inhabitants – or they will cease to exist. Technology and strategic planning today can help us envision and enact better cities and urban centers tomorrow.