By: Michael McQueen

With the UN predicting that 68 percent of the world’s people will live in urban areas by 2050,[1] it is essential that spaces we are living in are viable and sustainable for years to come. The cities we are familiar with, complete with collections of grey buildings, tangled roads and traffic, are set to change and the plans for these changes are already being implemented.

Here are 3 kinds of cities we will see in the future:

1. Smart City

Smart cities are focussed on utilising emerging technology in order to boost efficiency in their communications, production and processes. With a particular focus on infrastructural sustainability and viability, smart cities utilise the capabilities of technology to maximise resources and make life easier for residents. Data and technology are integrated into the city’s existing processes and adapted to the its needs in order to produce a space suited to its activities. Processes like garbage collection, lighting, and transportation are among those that are transformed in these technological initiatives.[2] As in industrial and business processes, activities that are able to be automated are handed over to machines to free up humans to do the activities that only humans can do.

For example, by utilising big data surrounding trends and habits of commuting in the city and responding to these trends with automated transport, smart cities are able to maximise the capacities of their resources, save time for the commuter and bring efficiency into city transportation. The integration of data and technology allows for transport solutions to adapt to real-time congestion, allowing for the optimisation of transportation and traffic flow. [3]

Not only do smart cities make life more efficient, but they make it safer, cleaner and more connected. Smart solutions to problems of energy optimise efficiency, making use of solar power and adapting the energy use to the actual conditions of the city. For example, one city in New York is using LED lighting for its streetlights, allowing for these to be brightened or dimmed depending on the current conditions. This access to real-time data and capacity for instant response also maximises a city’s responsiveness to crime and danger, as technologies like WiFi and CCTV are stronger and more connected than ever.[4]

2. Creative City

Another initiative being pioneered globally is the notion of the creative city. While this was conceptually formulated decades ago, the systematic implementation of creative cities across the globe only rose in popularity within the last 20 years. In 2004 UNESCO initiated a network of creative cities whereby they would support each other in the centralisation of creativity and innovation in their social and economic processes. In a creative city, architecture, infrastructure and engineering are focussed on facilitating creative thinking, innovation and the generation of ideas by providing aesthetically inspiring environments and fostering connections between people. Economic investment is given to artistic endeavours as creativity is acknowledged as a key stimulant for economy and production.[5]

Among the UNESCO listed cities are places like Melbourne, well-known by Australians as the centre of arts and culture in Australia, as well as Mexico City, Singapore and Auckland.[6] While not being included on this list, my hometown of Sydney has current plans in the process of implementation to establish itself as a creative city by 2024. Within this, the city has plans for partnerships with arts institutions and business firms, available seed funding and investments for emerging artists, and support for infrastructural innovation in filling the city with murals, sculptures and water features.[7]

Initiatives like this are acting in response to the acknowledged need for creating connections between people, stimulating innovation, negotiating diversity, and promoting accessibility for various groups. For both Sydney and the existing network of creative cities this could look like a future of intercultural festivals, a thriving arts scene, musical events and collaborative opportunities. While many disregard these kinds of artistic events as luxuries, it is undeniable that in the face of a uncertain world, when innovative thinking, collaboration and healing is needed, the arts play an indispensable role.

3. Green City

In a world in which urban spaces were largely pioneered by industrial revolutions, the divide between city and nature is stark. However, the future will likely see this divide diminish and our city spaces become greener and cleaner than ever.

The psychological and physiological benefits of green spaces are well known. People with access to the outdoors report higher levels of both physical and mental health. Green spaces are also known to enhance social connectedness and jolt us out of the cabin fever with which we have all became familiar during lockdowns.[8]

In the face of climate change, the benefits of green spaces to air quality and global warming also play a key role. [9] Placing these spaces within cities is intuitive as these are the areas that produce the bulk of the carbon emissions and waste that put the planet at risk.

Furthermore, as the demographic breakdown of city workers is transforming, so is public sentiment and the subsequent demand for such spaces. Millennials are projected to make up 75% of the workforce in 2025, highlighting the significance of their opinion. With climate change and global warming projections being within the scope of their lifetime and the emerging climate crisis being front of mind for the majority of the group, the prioritisation of clean cities is both economically and ecologically sound.

One company taking these matters into their own hands is Amazon, which is in the early stages of pioneering a new network of office spaces for the post-COVID era. With their prioritisation of maintaining workplace culture and employee connectedness in the era of remote work, they aim to establish an innovative office space with an emphasis on the outdoors. Featuring parks, an outdoor amphitheatre and a central building called the Helix which is a spiral shaped building covered in plants and trees, this space provides a vision for what the future of our cities could look like.[10]

No matter where you are in the world, it is likely that your cities and urban areas will resemble some combination of these three visions in the years to come. While COVID has pulled many of us out of our cities, the future holds much promise of drawing us back in to places that are smarter, greener and more creative than ever, and will possibly encourage these same qualities in all of us.

Article supplied with thanks to Michael McQueen.

About the Author: Michael is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

Feature image: Photo by Kit Suman on Unsplash

[1] Marr, B 2020, ‘The Smart Cities Of The Future: 5 Ways Technology Is Transforming Our Cities,’ Forbes, 2 July 2020.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Creative Cities Network 2021, ‘Creative Cities’, UNESCO, accessed 9 February, 2021.

[6] Ibid.

[7] City of Sydney, 2014, ‘Creative City Cultural Policy and Action Plan 2014 – 2024,’ City of Sydney, accessed 9 February, 2021.

[8] Plummer, R, McGrath, D & Sivirajah, S 2020, ‘How cities can add accessible green space in a post-coronavirus world,’ The Conversation, 12 June.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Putzier, K 2021, ‘Amazon Unveils Outdoorsy New HQ2, Renewing Its Commitment to Offices,’ Wall Street Journal, 2 February.