Paul Jones, Professor of Architecture at
Northumbria, writes about the future of cities for The
Cities – we are repeatedly told – are the future. Governments
and global corporations seek to increase productivity by
accelerating urban growth, while more and more citizens migrate
to cities, in search of a better life. Indeed, the Chinese
government recently unveiled plans to construct a city three
times the size of New York, calling it a “strategy crucial for a
millennium to come”.
Yet as it stands, visions of our urban future are bleak.
By 2050, it is predicted that up to six billion inhabitants will
live in urban areas – more than two thirds of the world’s
population. There could be as many as 30 cities with populations
exceeding 10m, and massive urban areas may merge to form
megacities, resulting in urban populations exceeding 50m.
According to Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums, approaching
two billion of the world’s inhabitants will live in slums,
scratching out an existence without access to the basic services
necessary for life. Another four billion will live severely
compromised lives within urban sprawl, left to fight for
resources as city governments fail to cope with the rapid influx
Paul Jones Urban Living1
Social services and health facilities will break down. Human
catastrophes such as starvation and the spread of disease will
result from unsanitary conditions and high population density.
The megacities of the future will have weak and unsustainable
local economies, that will negatively affect citizens’ lives in
Wealth will not provide immunity from these issues. Pollution
will rise exponentially, with toxic smog regularly enveloping
entire cities. This will inevitably lead to a rise in
respiratory diseases, which are already emerging as one of the
three major health risks to the modern population. Bad air
quality will be made worse by the urban heat island effect, as
parks and rural hinterlands are built over to house the influx
Nature will struggle to gain a foothold in the future city, with
rural land predicted to shrink by 30% to accommodate urban
expansion. The lack of countryside and green space will
ultimately contribute to the sixth recorded mass extinction of
animal and plant species.
A brighter future
But there is a way to avert this apocalyptic vision. Efforts to
control the rapid and chaotic expansion of cities must go hand
in hand with tackling the global environmental crisis, brought
about by climate change. Governments, however, have proved
unwilling or unable to reconcile the interests of global
corporations with those of everyday people and the environment;
this can be seen through their support of projects such as
mining the Alberta Sands and oil operations in the Niger Delta.
Paul Jones Urban Living2
As such, any alternative to this bleak urban future will require
a radical shift in governance and economic philosophy. Scholars
argue that society’s economic aim should be the sustainable
production and fair distribution of wealth – rather than the
maximisation of profit. Devolving wealth and power will help to
build robust local economies and strong communities, which can
mitigate the pressures of global urbanisation.
These changes should also be manifest in the physical structure
and form of urban communities, with compact, densely populated,
sustainable and self-governing community developments, as
opposed to laissez-faire urban sprawl. In alternative future
cities, urban blocks will support all the immediate needs of
their inhabitants; from healthcare to housing, education, food
production, clean water and sanitation.
Welcome to the Organicity
Paul Jones Urban Living3
To better understand what such a place might actually be like,
David Dobereiner, Chris Brown and I created Organicity: an
illustrated prototype for localised, autonomous, sustainable,
urban community infrastructure. The Organicity is densely
occupied, with residential, urban agriculture, retail, industry,
commerce, education and health facilities stacked above each
other, accommodating approximately 5,000 people per unit.
Automated industries and waste processing are located beneath
the living zone, where there is no need for natural light. Each
unit has a primary industry which trades with other neighbouring
communities to generate income to support the infrastructure.
Resources should be managed at a local level, with a higher
level of responsibility than is currently shown by global
Paul Jones Urban Living4
Protecting the environment and supporting a diverse range of
wildlife would be a natural function of these new communities.
Biodiversity could be promoted by green corridors, situated near
education, health and office spaces so that children and workers
can benefit from the proximity of a rich natural environment.
Investing in local people through the provision of skills and
education will add to the commercial viability of the community,
as well as building cohesion, purpose and mutual respect. As the
sociologist Jane Jacobs argued back in the 1970s, for cities to
remain viable they should become the producers of resources,
rather than insatiable consumers.
In the Organicity, each development will have the necessary
expertise for the community to flourish, including doctors,
architects, solicitors, dentists, as well as skilled and
unskilled labour. This new urban model transforms city blocks
into productive environments. For example, the development of
urban farming would boost food production and prevent starvation,
which would be an inevitable consequence of unimpeded urban
Paul Jones Urban Living5
The developments will vary in scale, with the bigger ones
housing hospitals and other community facilities that require
specialist facilities. The prototype reinvents the concept of
“terraced housing”: land is stepped backwards up a slope,
forming true terraces, where rows of houses are arrayed to
embrace the public plaza and allotment gardens.
Within these communities, it is essential that people work close
to where they live, to reduce the impacts of transport: not only
will this tackle pollution, it will also afford people more
quality time with their families and local community.
Sharing communal resources – including machinery and cars – is
an important principle of urban sustainability. Communal
ownership of assets, including real estate and green space, is
essential for this model to work. Renewable technologies could
also be community-owned, which would help to break people’s
dependency on fossil fuel.
By shifting from globalisation to localisation, and creating
smaller, self-sufficient communities within sustainable
developments, cities could regain their equilibrium. From where
we stand today, the Organicity may sound like a Utopian dream.
But if we’re to avoid an urban apocalypse, we’re going to need
strong alternative visions, to change the way we imagine and
plan for the cities of the future.
This article was originally published by The
Read the original article here.