October 21, 2012

Rethinking cities for Our Urban Future

Liverpool station in London, UK. Photo: Urban Strategies Inc.Liverpool station in London, UK (Photo: Urban Strategies Inc.)

By Geoff Cape

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a unique multi-day event called "Rethinking Cities: Framing the Future,” hosted by the World Bank and the City of Barcelona. The focus of the event was on developing shared knowledge and research priorities across an expanding network of academics, international agencies, not-for-profits, corporations and municipal officials.
Two big ideas that emerged quickly in the program were: A profound lack of vision and values guiding leaders influencing the larger urbanization agenda, and a gap in opportunities for cities to come together, like the United Nations, to share strategies and support work between cities.

Early on the second day, I took part in a panel discussion on “Urban Infrastructure: Forecasting Needs, and Designing Solutions,” which aimed to address these overarching challenges and develop a framework for future urban infrastructure spending based on the needs of cities for the next 50 and more years.

The session was opened by Dan Hoornweg from the World Bank, who identified a significant gap in the lack of vision and values of those leading the planning for cities. This is a major concern for both the planet and for people living in urban centres, a population that is expected to reach 7 billion by 2060 if current patterns continue.

Another more pressing concern is the slow pace of development as implemented by local governments. Our Urban Future, a new project led by Evergreen CityWorks in collaboration with a large multi-stakeholder group, will focus on this problem using a three-phase approach:

  • Phase One will create a baseline for 50-year future spending on urban infrastructure globally (expected to be more than $500 trillion dollars).
  • Phase Two will explore alternative approaches to urban infrastructure and build a vision for future cities.
  • Phase Three will develop actionable strategies by engaging multiple stakeholders in a comprehensive design process fed from the scenario work of Phase Two.

Nation-states are not investing in urban infrastructure strategies such as transportation, water, waste, energy and information and communications technology. The urgency of the urban challenge requires “leaps” rather than incremental evolution—and it’s our hope that Evergreen can help lead the way.


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