Authors: Greg Clark of the JLL Cities Research Centre with Emily Moir
This is the first in a new series of blogs on the future of cities based on the Business of Cities essay, produced in conjunction with the UK Government Office for Science.
Over the last five years, two ‘future’ urban agendas have been growing side by side. There is widespread and increasing interest in ‘future cities’, which focuses on the use of technology and digital infrastructure and systems in city management. This agenda includes the imagining and realization of the so-called ‘smart city’ of the future. But, at the same time, policymakers and businesses are also paying greater attention to ‘the future of cities’ – considering what the future urban world will look like, and the spatial, governance and infrastructure challenges that it will face. Why has interest in the future of cities escalated in recent years?
First, the sheer scale and speed of the current phase of global urbanisation has led to the recognition that cities will host the vast majority of future population and economic growth. Accordingly, it is being acknowledged that cities are the primary sites which must be optimised and configured to achieve improved liveability, productivity and competitive outcomes for nations as a whole. We now appreciate that the shift to a dominant urban mode cannot be ignored.
Second, the specific risks concerning carbon emissions, climate change, natural disasters and resource shortages are becoming much clearer. City and national governments are now under pressure to provide a vision of genuine sustainability and to develop the capacity to resist and recover from shocks associated with the natural environment.
Third, we have built up a widely understood historical record about the successes and failures of the last 150 years of urbanisation, especially in Europe and North America. This has raised awareness about the risks of regional economies becoming too narrowly specialised, having unsuitable governance arrangements, or experiencing path dependent lock-in due to unfavourable spatial patterns and transport development choices.
Fourth, public bodies have grasped that there is a generational shift taking place in terms of the diminishing availability of national and state/provincial/regional government transfers for urban infrastructure and development. Given the high and often unfeasible costs of large-scale reconstruction, growing cities are now seeking to make the case for investment and fiscal decentralisation, to avoid costly mistakes of the past, and achieve a resilient and adaptable urbanisation.
Of course, the extensive and widespread interest in the future of cities partly reflects the fact that there can be no single future of cities. Individual cities face their own challenges and exist within unique contexts. Therefore there are many futures of cities, and each urban space needs to do its own thinking and develop its own plans. Later in this blog series we will explore some of the ways that cities, governments and other interested parties around the world are thinking about the future of their cities.