Phil Pauley Blog

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Cities of the Future; Beautiful urban metropolis or overcrowded and poverty stricken?

According to latest predictions by the UN, by 2050, two-thirds of the world population will live in cities. By then, the world’s population will have risen by 30% to 9 billion. India and China’s already colossal populations will be joined by an explosion of child bearing throughout sub-saharan Africa and a rush to join already large cities like Lagos.

Between 2015 and 2050 the population of the African continent will double to 2.2 billion and the majority of these people will be heading to the city in a bid to find work and a better life. However, this will be dwarfed by Asia, which will account for nearly 60% of the world’s population with 5.2 billion inhabitants - mostly living in cities.

In our quest for togetherness and belonging, what were once hives of activity will become gargantuan swamps of humanity drowning under the weight of mouths to feed and the impossible complexity of co-ordinating millions of people’s daily routines around a manageable system of infrastructure. The rich in cities will get richer and the poor will become both more numerous and, tragically, even poorer still.

Image from

Image from

If you don’t like the crowds, the congestion, the overloaded infrastructure and the claustrophobic sense of powerlessness among your tens of millions of fellow city-dwellers, the future prospects for city life may not be any better.

China recently announced that it is planning to create a mega-city by merging nine existing conurbations to create a metropolis with an area twice the size of Wales and a population of 42 million. Thats a lot of jobs to find!

Once upon a time following the Industrial Revolution, cities offered the only hubs of information, inter-connectedness and employment and people flocked to them in search of a better life and the promise of streets lined with gold. What they tended to find were streets lined with animal dung and no way home.

Today, the information revolution means we don’t have to cram ourselves into shoe-box accommodation for a chance to interact with the world. The internet can bring the world to us. Interestingly, people’s living preferences have yet to change in accordance with the times.

Visions of how we can live in more sustainable, harmonious and less demoralising ways – combining the benefits of city life with those of a rural existence - are out there: The book Futuristic (Visions of Future Living) by Daab Media features ideas for cities that will offer exactly this balance.

Here at PAULEY we were honoured to have our Sub-Biosphere 2 concept for an underwater city included alongside designs for the Virgin Galactic Spaceport by renowned architect Norman Foster and The Urban Forest Design by the Beijing based Architects MAD.

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I really hope that these types of designs begin to get serious consideration as solutions for the now, rather than pipe-dreams for the future. The capabilities to turn these ideas into reality already exist if planners and investors are prepared to take brave decision on how we build our cities.

Already, many existing cities offer isolation, anonymity, exclusion and a dehumanising sense of insignificance. Trends for city and population growth predicted by the United States Census Bureau suggest the problem will only get worse without a more innovative approach to city infrastructure and integrated architecture.

Man lost his connection to the natural world – the world of changing seasons, natural cycles and sustainable living combined with a tangible appreciation and respect for the beauty of nature – when industry began to take over the world, People-kind sacrificed nature before capitalism.

I write this not out of pessimism but with a sense of hope that better solutions can be found. Simply increasing the scale of cities using existing models of urban planning may not be truly fit for purpose without radical innovation.

Governments promote investments in transport, infrastructure, housing, education, health-care and agriculture individually as solutions to the challenges facing cities but the problems go beyond that. Integrated architecture for businesses with smart transportation systems, housing, schooling, walk-in centres, leisure facilities and urban farms all under one roof - Architectural Social Superstores - perhaps thats the future?

Services and infrastructure need to be provided to city-dwellers but so to does a sense of meaning; a deeper sense of belonging and a reinforcement of our own humanity that cannot get lost among the crowds.

Ecobuild website

There are some encouraging signs. The Arab Future Cities Summit in Qatar is one of the first forums with a deliberate focus on the need for social innovations to tackle the challenges that we as humans will have to face living shoulder-to-shoulder with each other. The Bombardier YouCity contest is also focussed on squaring up to the problems posed by city life while this week’s Eco-Build exhibition in London will showcase the latest sustainable city solutions aiming for commercial up-take.

To make cities of the future great places to live, investment in the bricks and mortar of URBANISM is absolutely necessary but more than ever, we need to find new ways of giving them, and us, a way to reconnect with our souls.