The rise in prominence of cities in the global economy has been truly unprecedented. In 1800, only 2% of the world’s population lived in cities – now it is 50%. 1.5 million people are added to this total every week.
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.
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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.
There could be another approach:
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.