the future of cities

Friday 15 April, 2011

I caught this Young Professionals event put on by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs The Future of Cities: How We’ll Live Next & boy, it showed.  Greg Lindsay was pumping up his book “Aerotropolis:  The way we’ll live next” while Jeanne Gang kept right up with him, pushing her’s, “Reveal.”

GLOBAL CITIES-As of 2006, the world officially became urban when it’s population crossed the 50% threshold, which will total 3B in 30 years.  Gang’s architecture firm is working in Hyderabad, Mumbai, Taiwan, & Shanghai.  Different climates dictate different architecture, as does culture, i.e. India’s concept of feng shui leads them to want to interact, so they design in more common areas.

SUSTAINABILITY-China is building infrastructure before it’s actually needed, in anticipation of what they’ll need.  Now we need to build cities that are more dense to concentrate knowledge.  Another advantage to density is greenhouse gases per person are lower in cities.  Water quality is another issue:  it’s a problem when city’s sewage overflows with 1/8″ of rain.  There is a zoning problem re: trains;  there is a limit of 5 story buildings above train stations, so we need to rezone density.  Low rise buildings are not a solution to preserving the social fabric because people will just move farther out.  China has buildings that look like Chicago’s high rise Cabrini Green projects, but the Chinese buildings are active & vibrant.

INSTANT CITIES-A developer in China was asked to build a city the size of Boston to house ex-patriots, so the developer incorporated the best from many different cities, but character still counts to bridge the generic with the novel;  we’ll see in 150 years if these have it.  The key is to create that social fabric while each city responds to it’s own different climate.  Governments & corporations are building cities in the United Arab Emirates.  China is moving into the interior of the country, of which Chicago is already a good example.


  • Youngstown, Ohio is an example of a shrinking city where the goal is no longer growth, rather to simply be sustainable by creating more green space in the city, etc. which can be cheaper.  There are now shrinking cities conferences.
  • There is no optimal size or upper limit for a city.  Cities violate all laws of biology, i.e. they double in size & get an additional 15% increase in productivity.  Cities are changing into communities of villages today.  They are hyper-connected with no boundaries.  Online connections are reducing the need for cars & when you do need to go someplace, people are finding it’s better to talk on your iPhone on the train rather than veg out in your car.
  • Chicago was actually an Instant City when it was rebuilt after the Chicago fire.  That same process will happen elsewhere, as there is an urgent need due to migration to cities.  Singapore understands it’s limits in resources & they were the 1st to recycle gray (disposed) water, institute congestion pricing on cars in the city, & is now getting into the consulting-to-cities business.
  • Urban agriculture is bringing food infrastructure into cities with hothouses, vertical farms, etc.  The bottom million of the world population simply wants access to these mature markets.  The biggest obstacle is the size of the area required to raise farm animals.

I realize the content here is all over the place, but that’s how the conversation went.  It’s not me.


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