Cities cover 2% of the planet but consume 75% of its resources. You don’t need an expert to tell you that this isn’t right. Cities need to strive to find sustainable solutions for our future. From energy-usage to transportation, our future survival is dependent on us finding new technology and changing the way we live in cities.
Humans started coming together in cities merely 6,000 years ago. This is very recent if you consider that ‘modern’ humans have been walking on the planet for 200,000 years. But we have come a long way in a such short period of time.
There are different visions of what future cities could look like and countries like Singapore are already implementing some of these sustainable initiatives. Below I will talk about possible ways in which future cities could change. As you will see, some are more ambitious than others.
Traditional farming requires a lot of land while machinery emits a lot of emissions. A lot of water is often wasted, and as the soil absorbs it, it is impossible to recycle it. So how can we improve our farming techniques to be able to feed everyone while thinking about our impact on the planet?
With the use of LED lights and hydroponics, crops will be able to be grown directly under cities. South Korea built the first underground commercial farm. Farmers can control the conditions to sustain optimal conditions for growth. For example, the LED lights only emit the wavelength of light that is needed for photosynthesis. The crops can grow throughout the year so cities in the future wouldn’t need to worry about food insecurity.
This involves growing food in buildings within the city to reduce emissions and transport. Vertical farming reduces deforestation since they eliminate the need for traditional farms. This method has similar benefits to underground farming, meaning that conditions can be carefully controlled. Providing optimum conditions increases the yield so more food is produced. Tokyo and Singapore are already doing this in their cities. Less water is wasted and there are fewer emissions as they don’t need to be transported long distances.
High-speed rail and automated technology
Cities will be mostly car-free with only a few vehicles on the roads. This is something the city of Pontevedra in Spain is already doing. They banned all cars. Families feel very safe when there is no risk of road accidents and children can be outdoors care-free.
High-speed rails will cut commuting times much shorter and the majority of the population would choose these over their cars because of their speed. Too many people are wasting fuel and precious time commuting every day to work. China is starting to use the automated high-speed train which travels between 250 and 350 km/h.
Some have a vision where people will be able to fly in automated drones. All you would need to do is program the route you want to take and the drone would take care of the rest. All the drones would be connected meaning they would all know where each of them is to avoid collisions.
This sounds like a far-off dream to most people who hear this but most technology sounds far-fetched. Until it is done. To make it safe, cities will be required to map out everything including cables so no accidents happen.
Tests have already been carried out with these drones and they have had some success.
Human drones could become part of the solution. Pollution, congestion, commuting hours would all be reduced. Of course, aviation would just be another of the many modes of transport. There need to be multiple ways, sustainable ways to get around. That is the key to cutting down congestion. A good mix of trains, buses, metros, etc should be in every city to be able to accommodate the entire population.
When cars were first introduced to the world, they also received criticism and people thought they were dangerous. Now cars have taken over the world. We need to change our mindset and start accepting these new technologies if we hope for more sustainable cities in the future.
Another idea is incorporating solar panels in building walls while constructing them. Solar panels often take up a large area of land. This is one of the biggest issues with this type of renewable energy. Solar walls are a great innovative solution to fix that problem and increases solar energy production. The best part is that they wouldn’t even be noticeable when looking at the building.
We could place bladeless wind turbines on the rooftops of buildings in the cities to again limit land use. Bladeless wind turbines are cheaper to produce, much safer, and nearly silent. Traditional wind turbines are often a threat to the bird population but these bladeless turbines would not pose any harm.
Everything should be within walking distance to eliminate car use. It’s important to integrate work, home, and shopping in one place, not only to reduce emissions and congestion but to reduce urban sprawl. Cities are expanding and taking over natural habitats. Making sure we use all the land we already have as effectively as possible will not stop and will certainly reduce the rate of expansion.
All rainfall could be captured and used in households or for the irrigation of plants in the vertical or underground farms. Singapore is the leader country in water management and is already capturing a lot of its rainwater. It’s important to recycle as much water as possible. Otherwise, with such a big population, there would be a lot of stress on water sources.
This is a city that absorbs, cleans, and uses rainwater. We are covering most cities wit impermeable materials like concrete and tarmac so water can’t be absorbed. Instead, it runs off filling rivers and other water basins, increasing the risk of flooding.
Sponge cities would aim to allow water to flow naturally. The ground would absorb and retain water instead of letting it drain away and increase flooding. Kongjian Yu, an architect in China is working on doing this. He says it’s important to remove concrete flood defenses and instead create natural barriers.
Pavements would be permeable to water and roofs would have vegetation that again absorbs water (and clean the air at the same time). Many countries around the world are introducing these ideas into their own cities.
A Final Word
If cities incorporated all of these strategies and more, we would have a brighter future to look at with a better quality of life. The key is to integrate nature into cities instead of dividing the two.
Building a city in a garden will have greater benefits than destroying nature to build cities.
However, during this era of technology, we cannot forget about our culture. Future cities will probably have an even more diverse demographic than we have now. Preserving heritage sites and continuing the celebration of festivals is key to supporting multiculturism.