The 21st century may be the Asian Century or it may yet be the century the emerging world joins the developed world. But however this century plays out, it will be an Age of the City.

Over our 10-part Metropolis Now series, BlueNotes has explored what the increasing pace – and necessity – of urbanisation will mean for humanity. Not only will urbanisation change where we live but how we live. Even more profoundly, how we shape our cities will determine how well and how long we live.

Credit: (via Rolfe Winkler)

The scale of the 21st century city is almost beyond comprehension. Glenn Maguire described one massive conurbation stretching from Beijing to Jakarta. Bernard Salt took us back through the last 35 years of change in Australia’s cities to imagine the transformation the next 35 might bring. Jason Murphy took another view: cities exist because of the scale economies they bring. But what if technology allows that scale to be achieved virtually?

Jennifer Farmer and Jennifer Tucker and Andrew Isaac’s photographic and video essays provided dramatic visualisations of the cities of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Dominic Meagher’s study of Foshan and Mike Smith’s vision of a Chongqing “smart city” gave detailed shape to the planning of the modern metropolis, now and when.

The Los Angeles of Blade Runner, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the Jetson’s Orbit City, amazing though these cities are, the real metropolises now emerging will be even more extraordinary. But they could be utopian or dystopian.

In Australia, the reformed coalition government under Malcolm Turnbull has made the city a focal point of policy. As Communications Minister Turnbull had said cities needed to be “more like humans, less like cars”, echoing the refrain of many city planners who talk of human scale, community spaces, natural environment. Turnbull made good on this insight when he became PM, appointing a Minister for Cities and the Built Environment.

But in terms of global cities, Australia’s capitols, even when doubled in size, are relative villages.

In Asia in particular the sheer size and complexity will multiply the challenge many times over. It is a theme increasingly on the global agenda. During the time Metropolis Now has been running Google, General Electric, the Asian Development Bank, World Economic Forum and even the Journal of Central Banking have all published studies on Urbanisation – and that’s just a start.

The World Bank’s extensive Urban Development Series covers such fundamental issues as cities and climate change, the urban poor, maintaining historic centres, cultural heritage, disaster risks, transport and sustainability in the broadest sense. At the heart of the liveability of modern metropolises is the health of the built environment. Because of their concentration, cities are unavoidably energy intensive but their scale and construction also creates idiosyncratic environmental challenges.

As Lord Julian Hunt, visiting professor at Delft University and a former director general of the UK meteorological office and Yuguo Li, a professor at the University of Hong Kong, wrote recently “as urban areas expand, data and computer models confirm how their environmental effects, including rainfall and air pollution, extend hundreds of kilometres further away. Moreover, with energy use by transport, housing and industry in urban areas responsible for more than half the global consumption of carbon-based fuels, large cities are driving greenhouse gas emissions and consequent rises in global average temperatures.”

But the opportunity too of cities is enormous.

Cities, historically, have raised the standards of living of populations, enriched economies and driven social advancement. For every lesson from the favelas of Latin America there is the amazing triumph of Greater Tokyo or Singapore.

As Mike Smith said in Metropolis Now 9 “the leading global cities of today are aiming to be cities that don’t exist yet. Contemporary and complex issues, such as climate change, energy and sustainability, as well as inequity are at the forefront of each major city’s strategy. Addressing these factors is critical to ensuring cities remain attractive to the creative culture, a key driver of a global city.”

The social and economic dividends from improving and better planning cities as they grow and grow are enormous. Metropolis Now provides a gateway to anticipating this city of the future.

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Andrew Cornell

Managing Editor BlueNotes

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