Our surroundings have a huge impact on the quality of life. The space we live in everyday is designed in a way to make our lives more comfortable and convenient, while not forgetting about the aesthetic aspect. In 2007, the United Nations estimated that for the first time ever, more people inhabited urban than rural areas. Since then the number has rapidly risen. By 2050, approximately 75% of us will be living in cities, meaning that the way we design, develop and operate them will significantly influence our wellbeing.
SPX is constantly researching new ways of how to enhance the experience of space. In this new article series we will explore topics such as urban development, innovation districts’ transformation and the future of cities. Welcome to the Cities of Tomorrow.
Urban Experience has multiple dimensions
Karl Marx envisioned cities as epicenters of revolution and radical change. That image has not changed since. In the European Union publication we read that cities play a crucial role as engines of the economy, places of connectivity, creativity and innovation. On the other hand, cities are also the place where problems such as unemployment, segregation and poverty are concentrated.
One of the most pressing problems of the modern generation is loneliness. As Y.N. Harari pointed out, ‘People live ever more lonely lives on an ever more connected planet.’ Research shows that being raised in a city doubles the chances of developing schizophrenia, and increases the risk for other mental health disorders such as depression and chronic anxiety. The main trigger appears to be what researchers call “social stress” or “loneliness epidemic” – the lack of social bonding and cohesion among people & neighbourhoods.
Despite the available technology (or perhaps because of it), younger generations live in an urban landscape that lacks real-life social connections. In their fast-paced lifestyle, they crave comfort, convenience and, in general, more out of life. The desire to be in an environment that engages them on a personal and professional level, ensuring a sense of inclusion, wellness, safety & global connectedness, is extremely strong. That raises a question: how cities can ensure human-centric and steady growth now and in the future? In this sense, the role of urban planning and design must be taken into consideration. To ensure the wellbeing of urban-driven generation, landscape architects should include elements such as sustainability, connectivity and technology.
Is the utopian city just science fiction?
Although a lot has been discussed around this topic, it still seems to be a futuristic idea. Nevertheless, as urban planners are running out of development land, different innovative concepts have started being developed to ensure a great future for our cities. If we ran out of space, where will our houses be located in 30 or 50 years? Whether or not we can build on the ground, so far architects envision four alternative ways: on the water, underwater, underground and up in the air.
- Floating housing has been known for some time now. IJburg, a residential neighbourhood in Amsterdam completely built on water, came to life in 2017. Since then, similar initiatives have been undertaken to supply a very scarce housing market within the city.
- If we can build on the water, then underwater should not be as difficult. Do you remember Atlantis? Perhaps the accessible materials are not advanced enough to build a series of houses at the bottom of the ocean, but individual buildings are not a challenge anymore. An example is the H2HOME project – a private submarine-alike home that comes with two completely submerged floors adding up to a total of 3,600 sq. ft. of living space underwater. Nevertheless, with the price tag of $10 million, it remains a luxury rather than a reality.
- As cities get denser, why can houses not become one with the ground? Coober Pedy, a tiny town 846km north of Adelaide, South Australia, is known for two things: its opal mines, and its “dugouts” – subterranean homes carved from the rocks. From a bird’s eye view it appears like some brave individuals chose to build their houses in the middle of the desert, whereas in reality 80% of the town’s population live and socialise underground.
- Although the well-known cities floating in the air from Avatar are still fiction, Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay is a great step forward in aerial constructions. Their Supertrees, uniquely designed vertical gardens of up to 50-metres tall, currently serve as recreational spaces. Mixed-use buildings already attempted to combine several functions to satisfy different users within one building, usually placing a green area on the rooftop. However, if this structure was flipped upside-down, residential areas could soon make an impression of ‘hanging in the air’.
Megabuilding, serving as a self-sufficient metropolis, is another concept that re-imagines how the population will evolve into independent communities that can arise almost anywhere. One example is the Ziggurat Pyramid in Dubai, a complex inspired by the Egyptian giant pyramids, which can house a million people. The project was created back in 2008, but the construction was announced to start in 2021.
Designing for the Future
Have you ever wondered how those concepts come to reality? Let’s look at CITE in New Mexico – a one billion dollars ghost town used as a research center. Officially known as The Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation, it is a replication of a city in the middle of a desert designed to test new technologies, such as autonomous cars and renewable energy solutions. This is the place where radical innovations have their first try to ensure their safety for humans before being implemented into real cities.
During the conference organized by the World Economic Forum in China in 2018, change-makers stressed that the Internet of Things (IoT) is the fundamental concept in Smart Cities’ creation. Collecting different data from all public (and private) activities can improve the overall quality of citizens’ lives. IoT is a great source of knowledge about the inhabitants, based on which, authorities can adjust the cities to better serve people. For example, implementing a smart traffic system can significantly reduce day-to-day congestions, decrease pollution and even prevent road crashes.
Do you remember the Black Mirror episode about a smart city with a scoring system for citizens? China’s social credit system, according to which citizens are assessed based on their behaviour, is already implementing something similar. The idea behind the system is to prevent crimes and ensure public safety through advanced face-recognition and movement-trace technologies installed in countless cameras around the cities. However, the program is the subject of a controversial discussion about individual privacy and the government’s power to punish or reward certain behaviours.
One of the objectives of Smart Cities is to make the community more connected. What if the data collection would not be imposed by the government, but by the people themselves? Through a decentralisation of the system and consenting to contribute to create the database, they would directly engage with the city, creating a mutual relationship between humans and data-driven urban solutions in one Learning City ecosystem. This kind of Mega Connectivity would enable people to think holistically in terms of a city being one collective entity.
At the moment, the idea of creating a society driven by data still raises worrying questions about data ownership and cybersecurity – concerns that some governments will need to find solutions for in the first place.
Each city has its own character, so does each building and the space it is surrounded by. The unique character of cities consists of a mix of culture, people, nature and technology. Enabling technological advancements does not mean that all urban areas will look the same in the future. The Cities of Tomorrow are yet to be re-imagined, conceptualized, and designed. As the world is continuously changing, new breakthrough ideas will come in the way.
All the innovative solutions mentioned above could become reality in the near future. As there are huge gaps in the urban development of different countries, the cities will evolve at different pace in different areas. The article is mainly referring to the most advanced, post-industrialised societies.
We envision cities to be smart urban spaces, attractive economic hubs for diverse and mixed societies consisting of citizens, companies, international investors as well as emotional bonding centres, where communities and buildings create one unified ecosystem. By enhancing the spatial experience and providing solutions for urban spaces, cities can make people feel more connected, included and noticed.
Curious about how SPX contributes to the creation of future-proof cities and what it can mean to you? Get in touch for a consultation or to partner up and co-create together.
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