A city is a collection of preferences. It’s the place where people have voted with their feet and the places that thrive, the places that people want to live in, want to work in will be the places that satisfy those two primordial human instincts to make stuff and to be with each other.
I believe we’re at a turning point when it comes to urbanisation.
You’ve got 200,000 people per day, that’s 1.5 million a week, three Manchesters a week coming from the countryside to the city in a pattern of distressed migration that is swamping the megacity. What are we going to do with that?
By 2030 there is going to be 4.9 billion people living in African and Asian slums alone. When was the whole population of the world 4.9 billion? As recently as 1985. So, you’ve got one of the defining challenges of the 21st century which is what are we going to do with these people? Where are the jobs going to be? How is it going to work? How are we going to avoid the outcome of these crime-ridden slums and the megacities getting swamped?
We’ve had the city that the amazing technologies of fossil fuel driven mass production rolled out for us and they transformed our lives.
I believe we’re going to see a shift in what a city looks like and it’s not going to be a place that’s built for cars and built for machines. It’s going to be a place that’s built for people and in that place we’re going to be doing what we as human beings know that we love to do which is we love to make things.
We are about to move from the model that competitive advantage is secured by having really good, really expensive machines and really cheap people pushing the buttons on them to a model where it’s really valuable, really creative people, and ubiquitously cheap machines that are capturing and harnessing the potential of those people. The companies that do that will thrive. The cities that do that will thrive.
People want place. They want a place that they’re emotionally attached to, a place that they live in and, at the same time they want the job opportunities.
It’s about creating open spaces, creating thoroughfares where people walk, places where people mingle.
Is it a product in trash out city that’s really just a giant waste processing zone? What you’re starting to see if you look at places like Barcelona is a move towards something I think which is much more a sustainable city.
Cities must be adaptive to the needs of people. They must be local things where people have got the power to make that accumulation of small changes that keep the city alive and resilient and vibrant.
For me urbanisation is the outcome. It’s the outcome of a whole set of megatrends interacting and it’s the dominant challenge of the 21st century.
If we carry on our current pathway from a species that was 2% urban in 1800 to one that is already 51%, but is going to be 70% by 2050, it’s like we as a species collectively woke up one morning and said, “Wow, let’s change habitat. Let’s try something different” and we haven’t got a clue how to make that habitat work for ourselves. We seem to be doing it in emerging markets, megacities where we’ve got the least possible chance of doing it successfully. , but we’ve also got the chance with revolutions in energy and manufacturing to have a different vision of urbanisation where we make the countryside work, where we make the city work and we turn it not into a welter of slums, but into a series of villages in the city where people are thriving.
Strong population growth will put big pressures on infrastructure, the environment and the social fabric of the city. We forecast that New York, Beijing, Shanghai and London alone will need $8 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next 10 years. The number of people living in urban slums has risen by a third since 1990. And whilst cities occupy 0.5% of the world’s land surface, they consume 75% of its natural resources.
We believe that cities cannot keep growing in the same way without becoming unsustainable. City leaders will be presented with difficult choices if growing cities are to remain liveable cities.
But are these manufactured cities always such a smart option? Monetary, environmental and social costs often outweigh the benefits brought by technology. Masdar is eventually expected to cost $400,000 per resident.
We call this vision the “bottom-up” city.
From developing an energy self-sufficient street in Austin, Texas to pioneering micro-production clusters in Barcelona, local communities are using technology to transform mega cities into liveable cities.
New technology is playing an even more fundamental role: it is changing the reason that cities exist in the first place. People used to be attracted to cities because of employment opportunities, now people are increasingly attracted by the quality of life a city offers. Exactly how each city evolves will be determined by the collective preferences of city governments, people and businesses.