The cities we will need tomorrow will be nothing like what we can imagine today. Yet, what we build now is going to be part of them.
The future in the past: Transport corridors in the future city of Metropolis, from the film Metropolis (1927). Source.
Cities are, to a certain extent, an answer: an answer to the needs of society. The sustainability of cities in the long-term is a function of the social, environmental and economic costs required to accommodate the societal needs over time. Currently, the built environment accounts for a prominent share of total global sustainability. Cities cover only 2% of the Earth’s surface, but host over 50% of the population and are responsible for approximately 75% of energy consumption and approximately 80% of CO2 emissions (source).
A major challenge in planning sustainable cities for the future is that, despite the contextual conditions in which they will operate (i.e., the societal needs and the physical, environmental and economic conditions) are variable and evolving, the ability of a city to respond to this unknown future panorama largely depends on the decisions that are taken today (source).
Designing for an uncertain future is a highly risky task that can lead to myopic solutions, i.e., long-lasting assets that are precise responses to static scenarios, but inadequate solutions to dynamically evolving ones, with potentially dramatic consequences for global sustainability. History shows that our visions of the future are likely to be wrong (just as the above prediction of Metropolis does not match current cities, it is unlikely that any envisioned scenario will match the reality of the future). This is particularly true today, as we face unprecedented change in societal preferences, technological capabilities and environmental conditions (more: 1, 2).
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