Essential Reading on Our Urban Future
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Today, the majority of the world’s population lives in cities, generating about 80% of the global GDP. Rapidly rising standards of living and economic growth has meant a worldwide surge in migration to cities and growing urbanization.
In addition to this accelerated rate of urbanization, today’s reality also includes a quickening pace of innovations in information technology, super computing and artificial intelligence, all advancing faster than we've ever seen before in human history. With cities and people becoming increasingly productive, rapid economic and urban growth are the benefits but also the downside. As the quality of life and economic gains increase, so do pollution, environmental damage, inequality and loss of quality of life for many.
The explosive growth of cities has widespread implications for energy use and environmental factors, leading to a greater demand for cities to think about how to be both smart and green, at the same time creating and holding onto economic dynamism.
While billions of dollars are being poured into urban energy solutions and ‘smart’ city strategies, there are still enormous challenges. Smart cities will be those that will have effective management tools capable of creating urban systems that address all sorts of challenges, not only energy and pollution. As many writers and experts in recent times have noted: tools and strategies to address issues facing cities (and nations) must be sustainable and adaptable but also embrace creativity and collaboration.
Where Thomas Friedman has taken on virtually all of the factors that concern cities and the future of national states, authors like Charles Montgomery in Happy City and Gabe Klein in Start Up City focus on the intersection of urban design and the emergence of happiness. Creating the world’s most dynamic cities must address the needs of its citizens. Along with smart and engaging design should come strategies around building community and strong interdependence among residents. Again, the human element is integral to design and future strategies.
Cities and citizens everywhere strive for clean air, accessible transportation, protection from the effects of climate change and more. Ultimately, cities need to ensure they are liveable, competitive, sustainable, resilient and smart. Yes, the term ‘smart cities’ encompasses the use of big data, autonomous vehicles, new technologies, even robots, but it also must bring together creative, innovative and implementable solutions that are human friendly.
The most pressing challenges arise from the intersection of information technology and environmental sustainability on the urban scale. Addressing issues in these areas will require a complex integration of expertise, tools, and know-how from multiple disciplines - from building design and real estate development, to mobility, water systems and energy providers.
With the advent of self-driving vehicles and other technological innovations, Gabe Klein asks how we can close the gap between the world of start-ups and the complex bureaucracies struggling to adapt to an age of accelerations. Again, smart cities will be those with flexible, citizen-led policies, but that also seek input from the newest leaders in business and finance.
Start-Up City calls for “public entrepreneurship” from the tech start-up community – to work with the public sector and put some of its vast resources towards creating useful and implementable projects for cities and the wider community.
Certainly Pope Francis would agree with this approach, following on his recent appearance at the TED Conference in Vancouver, where he told tech entrepreneurs and business leaders to work for social inclusion and building community - to ensure we are building future that will include everyone, for everyone.