By 2050, it’s predicted that more than 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. We need new urban models to resolve the social, economic and environmental challenges of such high population densities. So how do we find a sustainable balance that instills and promotes ‘good life’ model for both us and our planet?

Growing Urbanisation
Since the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago, urbanisation has grown rapidly and we have seen the increasingly dramatic impacts of human beings on our planet. Now more than half of the worlds’ population live in cities and that is increasing at an exponential rate, particularly in emerging economies.It is expected that most demographic growth in the next 30 years will be urban, with a constant stream of people moving to cities. According to the 2011 World Urbanization Prospects report, Asia will account for over 55% of urbanisation by 2050.

Plus and Minus Factors
Mega-cities, with their progressively dense clusters of people, buildings and transportation systems, develop complex urban ecosystems. This poses challenges and opportunities that must be addressed holistically. Today 20% of GDP is generated in cities – hence they are often seen as attractive hubs stimulating innovation, creativity and economic development, as well as centres for self-fulfillment and cultural capital. However, poor living standards, poverty and unemployment – to name just a few issues – are still the sad reality for many people migrating for economic opportunity and to achieve a ‘good life’. Last but not least, cities consume 70% of global energy, so naturally we have to start here if we want to create sustainable ‘living models’ that deliver a positive future for everyone

Real-Time Cities
Mature megacities have the potential of becoming real-time Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems, radically changing the way we consume and interface with our environment. Today ICT can act as an organic automated distribution network, with buildings, transportation, goods and services interacting and responding to people instantaneously. A ‘living’ knowledge system is key to tackling some of the challenges and inefficiencies in infrastructures. Technology brings an exceptional opportunity to leverage lasting change in our cities. This means optimising and expanding current systems to save energy in buildings and transportation – but also getting governments, businesses and people actively involved in cultivating a better world mindset.

Cities are Living Systems
The physicist Geoffrey West proposes that we develop a “serious science of cities”, suggesting that if most problems are generated in cities, then it is also here that we are going to find solutions. The bigger the city, the more we have of essentially everything. On the plus side, this means more creativity, innovation and culture and financial markets, as well as a concentration of education and health resources. And on the minus side, we see increased transportation and congestion, pollution, disease, housing shortages and crime. Understanding cities as living organisms is critical for developing intelligent urban systems that talk back to us. Today’s global conversations not only pose the opportunity for intelligent dialogue between citizens and local government, but also the chance to tap into community networks with people like us within our own locality.

The Rise of the Megacities Infogrpahic (click image to enlarge)

Citizen-Centric Systems
There are no universal solutions to the global challenges of urbanisation, as these must be solved according to socioeconomic and cultural conditions as well as factoring in the local definition of ‘the good life’. Tomorrow’s technologically advanced building blocks are a good start, but they must be designed to be agile and scalable, to fit various stages of urban development. Clearly, no two cities face the exact same challenges and therefore we need citizen-centric models to better environmental and social conditions. Such systems must be based on transparent collaborative learning – evolving around diversity, mobility and sharing to address individual needs and dreams. Visionary mayors who already successful use ICT for city management are capitalising on the enormous potential it brings for cities to harmonise and talk – with better infrastructures, new business opportunities, improved civic communities and increased social capital.


The Future is Now
So where do we look for inspiration to create better megacities? Well, cities in the Scandinavian region have already implemented transparent e-government models to support low corruption and build a green infrastructure to meet future demand for a carbon neutral economy. Singapore is another inspiring urbanisation model that many countries look to for best practice approaches. Green megacities across Asia are emerging, with Iskandar in Malaysia set to eclipse Singapore as a showcase for 21st-century smart urban living. To make the future happen now, we must be the change we want to see in the world. In this equation, a holistic vision is key for working together – government, businesses and citizens – towards the same goal.

The Growth of Cities Infographic (click image to enlarge)

Article: SME Magazine (Asia), March 2013

Images
* Thinking Cities
– Ericsson Video
* New York City Scape – Harald Brekke
Kent Larson: Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city >>
* Winter Bath in Copenhagen Harbour 
– BIG (DK) >>
* Moutain Dwellings, Copenhagen  – BIG (DK)
* Grand Union Canal Walk Housing, London
– Grimshaw (UK)
* How Rapidly Cities are Growing – Urban Age
* The Rise of Megacities – Infographic >>

Inspiration Sources
* 2011 World Urbanization Prospects – United Nations
The Surprising Math of Cities and Corporations  Geoffrey West >>
* Aerotropolis: The City of the Future?  >>
* How The Rise of the Megacity is Changing The Way We Live >>
* Living in the Endless City – LSE Cities: Ricky Burdett, Deyan Sudjic >>
* The Three Ages of Megacities
 – Sony Ericsson Report >>

* A Safe and Just Space for Humanity – OXFAM >>
* How Rapidly Cities are Growing
– Urban Age >>
Urban Theory Lab Research Seminar – Harvard
* SENSEable City Laboratory – MIT >>
* Farming The City – Project by CITIES Foundation >>
* Going Viral: Blurred Boundaries
– Center for Architecture Video >>

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