Earth´s population has recently passed 7 billion, a clear reminder that we need to re-evaluate how earth´s resources are divided amongst its inhabitants. In 2008 for the first time in human history, about as many people lived in urban areas as in rural settings. Predictions show that in 2050 as much as 70% of the earth´s population will live in urban areas. In Europe about 70% of the population already lives in an urban environment so we have clearly reached a critical place in the development of our societies and how we deal with urban development will be a deciding factor in our foreseeable future.
The rapid urbanization of the 20th century has seen most cities develop in an unsustainable and unacceptable manner. European cities have certainly developed in such a way and the effect that the American car culture has had, can be seen clearly. It’s key concepts of classification and separation have created sprawling urban areas with expensive and complex infrastructure and public transportation. The urban extremes are now exaggerated even more as some areas or districts flourish and prosper, as others nearby are completely rundown. Unemployment, social isolation and poverty are on the rise and new urbanites experience greater difficulty in adjusting to this challenging environment.
The most demanding and challenging issues of the future generations will be those dealing with the environment, climate and food resources. Global warming is becoming ever more apparent and the extreme consumption of our energy resources is largely at fault. We must realize however, that even the complete reformation of our energy consumption with renewable sources will not suffice. We must in conjunction, completely reassess our urban ways of living and ask compelling questions regarding our social behavior.
Cities have become the driving force of the western economies. They are the source of employment with most of the largest and influential companies at its core. They are also the centers of most of the world´s greatest educational institutes so it is not without reason that we should expect the solutions to most of mankind’s problems to materialize in this melting pot. Dynamic and effective cities, built on the ideas of sustainability can have an effect reaching far out to the surrounding rural areas, strengthening and increasing the public’s quality of life.
A city’s development is usually a good indicator of the level of culture and character of the society it is built in. Therefore we should strive for a more humane and diverse urban environment with varying public and private spaces built around people instead of the car. These are things we need to consider:
- All three essential factors of sustainability; the environmental, economic and social factors need to be addressed in all new urban developments.
- Emphasis should be put on derelict and run-down areas where the focus must not only be put on economic factors but also environmental and social.
- Older districts need protection with stimulation and revitalization.
- Infrastructure needs to be re-evaluated and modernized for greater efficiency.
- Public transportation must be strengthened to an even greater extent and solutions focusing on pedestrians and cyclists need to be in the foreground.
- Greatly increase the use of renewable energy at the expense of fossil fuel by educating and encouraging the population as well as increasing economic incentives.
- “Green” urban businesses need to be supported and investments in such encouraged. Perhaps with temporary financial incentives and lower energy prices.
- Better standards for the political administration need to be in place by advancing public education and the encouragement of greater public participation.
As a well planned city needs to take our cultural identities into account, it also needs to contain superior new architecture in diverse and active public spaces which will in return enrich people’s lives and create respect for conserving the history of the past generations. The residents of such a city are also more likely to leave behind a better city for future generations.
As citizens we need to take measures and prepare for a slower lifestyle, where most things will be on a smaller scale. We should be ready to: work closer to our home, live closer to our neighbors, eat local food and in general utilize more local products and services than we do today. If we are to succeed in deflating this global, economic bubble we have created, without sacrificing general prosperity, we certainly need to reconsider our use of natural resources as well as any other limited resource we have become dependent on.
All of us in the developed parts of the world and not least the „better off“ parts of our societies, will have to forfeit our ever growing demands for wealth and financial gain. We must all be ready to adopt simpler, more environmentally friendly lifestyles and accept this fact so that it may enrich our lives. We must stop considering ourselves as consumers, focused on short term gain. We are citizens with great responsibilities where we must protect the rights of the more impoverished areas both locally and globally and take actions to greatly increase their prosperity.
The uncontrolled urban development we have witnessed in the past 100 years can not continue in this fashion. Sustainability has to become the prerequisite for all urban planning, starting now. We have to invest heavily in our education and the development of innovative new resources and technologies and in all likelihood accept that our unyielding demand for economic growth is unrealistic. Strong and healthy European cities with strong and healthy citizens are imperative for successfully dealing with any economic or social challenge we may face in years to come. This must be our goal.