Navigation path

Future Cities, Villages and Communities

Cities will grow into megacities, which will be highly vascularized by eco-friendly and energy-sustainable transportation means, and filled with new dwellings and buildings made from innovative construction materials, which will be resistant, sustainable and affordable. In addition, thanks to the interconnectivity and performance of future devices, all elements of the city will be connected to a higher supra-network, the future Internet, which will receive and transmit data.

 

Over half of the world already lives in cities. According to the UN, by 2050, the majority of the population (9.076 billion) will reside in urban areas, which will generate most of the economic power and will offer high standards of living to their inhabitants. The cities will be the employment hubs and, at the same time, they will also boast the most attractive and desirable ways of living and the best comforts.

 

High automation in all industry areas will have made it possible for manufacturing to reduce the number of jobs involving redundant activities. Production will take place through large-scale robot-assisted processes, with minimal human intervention needed (mainly for supervision and control). Therefore, employment rates will be lower, at least in the traditional understanding of employment. Entrepreneurship will boom, especially in relation to the services sector, and “one-person companies” will be common endeavours. Those who do not have a job or a company will contribute by being involved in the informal sector, through social work activities. A basic income scheme will be in place.

 

Within industry sectors, high excellence and specialization will be the norm. On the other hand, for services flexibility and customization will play an important role. Data exchange and its ubiquity will make this possible. In addition, the fluidity of material goods and immaterial assets, and thus the sustainability of cities will also be determined by the power of data exchange. Cities will find ways to collaborate with one another in order to overcome different challenges inherent to growth, such as environmental issues and infrastructure needs.

 

However, the growth of the urban conglomerates, attracting increasingly more inhabitants, will also result in a continuously increasing gap between cities and rural areas. The UN suggests that cities will have their own value system, which differentiates them from villages. Cities will be populated by people who prefer to live alone. Eric Jaffe (Atlantic Cities) comments that ‘’ Solos' prefer city centre living, in apartments with short commutes via public transport. For cities to continue to attract solos, they need to invest in public transit and recognise the age profile of city inhabitants. The rise of people living alone can lead to more sustainable cities. 

 

The villages of the future will be somewhat left aside, since investments will be directed only towards cities. Therefore, eroding infrastructure, decreasing population and the separation from the hubs of both culture and entertainment will plague the villages. The inhabitants who will not have already migrated to the cities will live a self-sufficient, frugal life.

 

In these two totally different contexts, two different types of human communities will be shaped. In cities, people will head towards immaterial consumption, by transferring most of their activities (personal interaction, work, pleasurable activities) to multi-sense virtual spaces and by being able to produce (and recycle) different customized objects for immediate need through 3D printing technologies. Social services like medical supervision for the elderly will happen at home, based on automated processes. On the other hand, in villages more gregarious communities will take form, because of the fragmentation from the cities and because of the lack of automation. People will meet more in person because they will need to collaborate and communicate about basic issues, such as overcoming seasonal weather challenges.

 

Key transformative forces

 

Economy: The world will have witnessed a major paradigm shift in economy, based on the understandings of the last major economic crises. The decisions makers of Europe and the world will have joined forces for a universally stable economy characterized by a global approach based on cooperation, trust and sustainable growth. Researchers, industry specialists, governmental representatives and education institutions will have developed resource-based solutions for the population's needs, rather than monetary-minded workarounds for economic scenarios.

 

Science and technology: The steadily increasing innovation of information and communication technologies that started at the beginning of the 21st century will have revolutionized the implementation of all other technological breakthroughs. Sharing, community-centred work, collective sense-making, and seeking solutions in diversity will be part of the workings of the minds of future scientists and researchers. In more practical terms, this will be enabled by automation through robot-assisted processes, RFID technology, graphene and carbon fiber, supercomputers and data mining.

 

A network of sensors will, provide a host of data about how a city is performing. IBM is currently running 2,000 projects. Its flagship project Rio de Janeiro was built initially to help deal with the floods that regularly threatened the city. Now it co-ordinates 30 government agencies with mobile applications that help prevent accidents, etc.

 

Environment: Distributed power generation is one way to cope with future challenges in the energy industry. Smart cities of the future will be environmentally sustainable, characterised by sustainability and energy efficiency. Decentralized power generation in particular, usually in combination with renewable energy sources, will plays an important role.

 

Personal life: People will have been educated and will have achieved an ecological understanding of life. They will have realized that the wellbeing of the whole, Europe for example, depends on collective, converging efforts of all its parts, particularly citizens. Therefore, each person’s actions and ways of governing their life will determine the coherence of the higher outside context, because the part and the whole are vitally and systematically connected. People will have learned not to focus on their own, individualistic and immediate gains from the diverse contexts they are in, such as work, but on personal, intrinsic transformation and self-realization.

 

Challenges: 
  • Future cities will need to face the challenges around environment and sustainability and adaptation to climate change (temperature rise, wetter climate with sudden floods).
  • Spatial management will be a key issue: for example, governments will have to adopt measures to counteract to spatial segregation of urban spaces (e.g. with respect to suburbs). These measure might include socially-balanced housing, equal access to good education, health, public transport and other multi-modal transport opportunities (car pooling and car sharing, bicycles schemes) and technology, while also maintaining ethnical diversity accross the city. Indeed, many of the future challenges for cities, villages and communities relate to the decrease in population in rural areas as a result of urban drift. There is a risk that the quality of life outside cities might become significantly lower, due to a lack of investment in public transport, health and other public goods. Solutions for adapting to adverse climate conditions might be also more expensive and therefore less widely introduced in these areas. 
  • Funding and developing the right (sustainable) infrastructure (e.g. transport, IT, broadband) in the context of the urban sprawl will also need to be addressed, overcoming the weaker social links, inefficient public transportation and traffic congestion.
  • Effective use and protection of the data at the heart of cities' intelligence will also be crucial, in terms of striking the right balance between smart and intrusive, to provide optimal services and benefits for the population.  
  • There might be a battle ahead between what corporations want to sell to cities and what citizens actually need.
Opportunities: 
  • The challenge of climate change can be turned into opportunity by developing more sustainable economic behaviour, whereby cities learn to exist on less of today's sources of energy (e.g. switching to carbon-neutral forms of energy) and be more water efficient and innovative when thinking about their growth.
  • ICT technology will allow for a higher level of public participation. New governance models based on empowerment of citizens and more participatory decision-making will be introduced and be part of future city life. 
  • The power of population diversity can be harnessed to transform cities into vibrant, ethnically and culturally-diverse communities. Social innovation solutions can be applied to widen spheres for civic collaboration and maintain the social cohesion.
  • Future cities can also open up urban spaces, preventing the increase of closed private spaces and lodgings to maximise democratic participation and social inclusion.
  • As cities develop to become the global powerhouses for economic development and innovation, openness, networks and collaboration can prove pivotal to success and progress: the development of future cities is an opportunity to create more interaction spaces where innovation and sharing can occur. Similarly, the diversity of sub-urban areas can be capitalized on as an opportunity to foster social innovation. 
  • By 2020, 25% of the world’s protected areas will be of 15 km of an urban city. Cities will therefore have more opportunities and greater responsibilities to maintain biodiversity for functional ecosystems. 
Questions: 
• How will we close the growing gap between rural and urban communities?
• Will cities be self-sufficient or will they depend on rural communities for food and resources?
• Will big corporations that are heavily involved in designing city infrastructure increasingly influence the governance in future cities?
• How to balance short-term policy actions that focus on today’s problems with long-term strategies and visions?
Leading image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Timeframe: 
2050
Desirability: 

Likelihood: 

Curators: 

Related Projects

Underpinning policy ideas

Supporting evidence

Driving trends