The big cities of the 2020s are a fascinating market for innovations across all walks of life. How to best serve the needs of the huge urban populations in the cities of the future is the question many startups, corporations, and public service providers are working hard on. The time is right to set up a process for continuous strategic foresight in order to anticipate change and come up with the innovative solutions that set an example in a new world of smart cities. Here we look at the future city from seven different angles.
A LOOK AT THE CITY OF THE FUTURE THROUGH 7 THEMES
A team of futures researchers (led by PhD Tuomo Kuosa, author of The Evolution of Strategic Foresight) looked at a large variety of future trends and phenomena and flagged interesting examples of developments to pay attention to.
The seven themes in this article are key themes displayed on the foresight radar Future Cities powered by Futures Platform. Futures Platform is a digital tool that allows users to construct a future radar easily around a selected topic (such as future cities, future of work, or any other topic). Any person, or team, can build their own radar. It’s up to the user(s) to decide what future themes to focus on and what trends to display and evaluate on the radar.
In this article we look at probable future cities with the following seven key themes in mind:
Demographic Changes: What are future urban populations like?
Construction and Urbanization: What kind of city structures do they live in?
Work and Income: How do they work and earn their living?
Services: What kind of public services and private service providers will they utilize?
Leisure and Social Interaction: How do they spend time and what do they value?
Transportation: How do people move around in the urban environment?
Security and Safety: What’s different in terms of safety and security compared to the urban environments of today?
Future Cities article available in Futures Platform Freemium Version
1. DEMOGRAPHICS: AGE AND DIVERSITY
The population of the world will continue to grow for a few decades. But this growth is no longer based solely on an increasing birth rate, it is also based on the fact that people live longer than previous generations. In other words, the population is both growing and growing older.
At the same time, humankind is also urbanizing at an accelerating pace. With only 3% of people in the world living in urban areas in 1800, the share has already reached approximately 55%. Every day, the number of urban residents increases by roughly 200,000.
In 1990, there were only ten megacities in the world, with a population of more than 10 million people. Today, there are more than thirty megacities. According to GlobalData, a data and analytics company, around 8.2% of the world's population (that's roughly 600 million people) live in one of the 35 megacities located around the world. Together, they contribute to a staggering 14% of the world's total GDP. But 10 million is a number that perhaps does little justice to the real scale of change. Estimates by the Global Cities Institute of the University of Toronto put some cities like Lagos, in Nigeria, at over 80 million inhabitants by 2075. According to the same study, the top 20 cities with the largest populations will be in the African continent, not Asia, Europe, or the Americas.
Credit: United Nations Population Fund (www.unfpa.org). A look at world population change across the globe shows the contrast between Africa and the rest of the world.
More and more representatives of the millennial generation are beginning to take on leading roles in business, politics and market-defining companies. In emerging countries, absolute poverty and wars are declining, and the middle class is on the rise. On the other hand, in the Western world, the middle class is shrinking, and the overall polarization of society is accelerating.
Demographic changes altogether represent one of the biggest forces shaping the city, or cities, of the future.
2. CONSTRUCTION: STRUCTURES OF NEW SHAPES AND FORMS
City-states. In terms of administrative structures, one interesting future scenario is that large cities will be distancing themselves from their host nations, until the first ones surprisingly declare themselves independent. This could set in motion a development where many of the world’s megacities become independent city-states.
Looking at future city infrastructures, in the not-so-distant future, cities may become self-sufficient in things like energy generation. Even individual buildings may take care of their own energy generation and waste management. This means that a real estate property may produce its own energy, store it in high voltage batteries, and sell the surplus to the public grid.
Buildings will also become autonomous and self-repairing. Simultaneously, new technologies, like AR/VR, IoT, voice control, robotization and AI will become integrated into real estate.
The 5th generation of mobile networks will bring us the ultra-fast Internet connections of the future. 5G is expected to allow for new technologies to really take off, such as IoT, VR, and autonomous vehicles, due to its low latency and massive capacity.
Surfaces become interfaces and media, and communication gains participatory, interactive, and multisensory characteristics. The shift from a static structural environment towards an environment of moving imagery and increased adaptability and modifiability does not necessarily mean increasing visual noise or excess stimuli. For example, a waiting lounge equipped with multisensory modifiability can be tuned with mood, ambience, and media contents to support relaxation or to promote wellbeing
Urban dwellers will witness an increase in underground tunnel and shopping center construction. Cities such as Singapore, a city with half the surface area of London, is forced to take underground spaces into consideration in zoning activities instead of merely growing upwards or spreading out to the sea.
The "Bosco Verticale" towers in Italy are a good example of the aesthetics of buildings in the City of the Future
3. WORK AND INCOME: A NEW WAY OF WORKING TRANSFORMS THE CITY
Artificial Intelligence and robot co-workers. Estimations of how much of contemporary human work could be fully automated in the next few decades vary from 5 to 70 per cent. Just as great variation can be found in estimations of how much new types of work will emerge as a result. In the most likely future, automation and human labor form increasingly efficient teams. Jobs will be lost at an increasing rate, but new applications of human labor are likely to be found.
Also on the rise are telediagnostics and remote maintenance. Consequently, large workforces, such as maintenance workers, in cities may find themselves without a job. It is increasingly rare to need people on-site to fix malfunctioning or broken equipment. Combined with the development of the Internet of Things, tele-diagnosed machinery can often be serviced remotely.
3D-printing technology may prove to be a disrupting innovation in many fields, because it can radically change the location of production from factories to homes and work sites. The 3D prints currently made in labs and tests showcase what is going on. Besides everyday objects and spare parts, whole houses, food, and even organs are being printed.
Universal basic income. A significant change in how people earn their incomes in the changed industrial and service environment is that different kinds of universal basic income models have emerged as a common element of the economic systems of future cities.
Developments such as the ones mentioned above will change the nature of working life in future cities in many ways, including where work takes place, the relationship between work and free time, the size of workforces, the types of local clusters of economic activity, commuting to work, the design of working spaces, and many more aspects.
4. SERVICES: WINDS OF CHANGE FOR RETAIL, HEALTH, EDUCATIONAL SERVICES
The platform economy will remain a dominant change driver in the service industry, rapidly dismantling existing service production and delivery-related value chains. At the same time, it brings together conventional operators of the industry with a network of prosumers. A sharing economy, made possible by the platform economy, creates new kinds of business models which, to some extent, reduce the profitability of conventional businesses but, on the other hand, offer better visibility, strong co-operation channels, and a chance to benefit from more scalability.
The popularity of vegetarian and vegan food and the stores, restaurants, and events offering them is rising significantly. In the future, we will find whole areas in retail and services that concentrate on vegetarian food.
The full automation of supermarkets is also beginning to happen. First of its kind, Amazon Go is already open to thousands of people, needing no sales personnel – only a mobile app, artificial intelligence, and sensors.
Automated health spaces that make use of artificial intelligence (AI) will emerge. These spaces will monitor our bodily functions and analyse the gathered data, compare data to our personal genetic map, and automatically diagnose whatever ails us and recommend ways to tackle it.
The changing face of education. The rapidly changing and insecure operational environments of the globalizing world pose new kind of challenges for education. Changes in teaching methodologies are also strongly linked to technological development. This essentially changes future competence requirements and alters learning tools, methods, and environments.
5. LEISURE AND SOCIAL INTERACTION: FROM SMART HOMES AND ROOFTOP GARDENS TO WELLBEING CENTERS
In the city of the future, many people are looking for chances to fulfil their daily needs with locally produced alternatives that serve the values and goals they deem important.
Hyper-localization is one manifestation of a new kind of ethical and ecological ethos; the desire to grow one’s own food is related to willingness to recycle. New ideas include growing crops on roofs and in restaurants or offices. The DIY (“do-it-yourself”) culture as a whole is a sphere of hyper-localization, as are self-produced furniture (crafts, 3D-printed own designs) and gardening.
Smart home technologies are developing rapidly. Increasingly comprehensive solutions, where smartness is built into building structures and furniture are coming to the market. In addition, new, efficient smart devices are continuously developed to handle and assist in chores and housework.
The ageing population increases the need for many different types of healthcare services. There is a trend in some countries for these services and facilities to be combined outside of traditional hospitals into what are being called “wellbeing centers.” These wellbeing centers offer a comprehensive framework for communal and supported housing, while offering a wide array of different health- and wellness-related services.
6. TRANSPORTATION: MOVING AROUND IN THE CITY
Something else that will look quite different in the city of the future is mobility. This should come as no surprise to anyone, having seen the recent developments in automated cars and trucks, ride-sharing services, and electric vehicles. We are now at the early stages of large-scale developments that will alter the face of transportation in the city of the future.
Self-driving vehicles are one of the primary trends. Some already travel our roads but the ecosystem is nowhere near its full potential. There is still a lot of regulation surrounding the development of this new technology and problems to fix. But, generally, it's government policy that catches up to advances in technology, and not the other way around. So we can expect self-driving vehicles to be ubiquitous in the future.
Singapore and Finland have already publicly announced plans to have self-driving buses in cities very soon. According to the Singaporean Strait Times, students at the Nanyang Technological University will soon be able to move around campus on self-driving buses. Just one of these buses would ferry around 300 passengers in a single day. In the Finnish capital Helsinki, there's a self-driving bus too. Projected to begin full service in 3 years, and operated by Helsinki RobobusLine, this bus has already begun its tests and it won't be long until it's ready for operation. These two examples show how automation is changing the face of public transport. Add to that private transport, and you have a real revolution.
But there’s more. The evolution and adoption of ride-sharing services. Companies like Uber, Lyft, and Carma Carpooling are decreasing the need for car-ownership. Ride-sharing is already a prevailing phenomenon, but with the market expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.2% between 2018 and 2022 in the US alone, this new form of transportation is only going to increase in importance. These services, and others similar, suggest that in the city of the future, car ownership will become significantly less necessary. Instead, we will rely on multi-modal modes of transportation: from bicycles to other people's self-driving cars, to the city's self-driving buses, metros, and trains.
And maybe even... flying cars? While it is hard to imagine a city of the future without flying cars, forever depicted in utopian and dystopian sci-fi moves alike, this is likely still quite far away. If that. Nevertheless, it's not only private companies eyeing some of this. It's governments too.
It only was last year that we first heard of Dubai's air taxi. Able to reach speeds of almost 100 km/h and flying over distances of 30 km, this air-taxi was created by the company Volocopter, can carry up to 2 passengers, and offers a smoother and quieter ride than a helicopter. According to the company, the objective is to have it (literally) up and running within 5 years in Dubai.
Credit: Volocopter.com / The Flying Air Taxi showcased in Dubai
Alongside the transformation taking place with driving and vehicles, we may see other modes of transportation becoming reality, such as the Hyperloop. While it faces regulatory and engineering obstacles, it could provide a good alternative to current problems in traffic congestion. With city populations growing, and more and more megacities emerging, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has recently claimed it could be a good solution to the current problem of transportation being two dimensional. In other words, as cities grow upwards, we still only have transportation on mostly a single level - roads. With solutions like the Hyperloop, we could have them on 3D levels - multiple levels underground. Thus freeing up traffic and enabling higher mobility.
A fictional representation of the Hyperloop in the City of the Future
In the city of the future, on the one day you might have to go to a meeting in the company's headquarters, you might have your home control system call up a self-driving car. The car company, or individual, will know what system made the call, and will charge you automatically. You might then get on a self-driving bus, which recognizes your face and bills you, making your public transport passes no longer necessary. Then you'll go down to level three of the Hyperloop system, take a quick ride to a nearby city, and head up straight to the office. If you want to appreciate the views a little, on the way home you might take an air taxi - maybe a little more expensive, but worth it.
The city of the future, therefore, will allow us to move around with much more ease and much more efficiently. These developments provide governments and private companies with new incentives and opportunities to improve mobility all around. It will be multi-modal, seamless, safe, and work almost flawlessly. This will in turn result in higher productivity, mobility, and growth.
7. SAFETY AND SECURITY: IS IT SAFE?
Several risk factors will emerge into the security environment during the 2020s. First at risk are densely populated urban environments.
One of the most frightening ones is bioterrorism. According to some experts, by 2025, continuously advancing CRISPR technology allows anyone with a master’s degree level knowledge in biochemistry to create new, lethal viruses and bacteria.
Multiple new and radical technologies, like nanotechnology, 3D-printing, unmanned aerial vehicles, and especially the yet unknown applications of AI, will also provide terrorists or criminals with dangerous weapons.
The long-standing symbol of secured premises, keys, are on their way out. Current key and pin number security are undermined by 3D-printing and phishing. There are several instructions on-line for 3D-printing house and car keys. Conventional keys will first start disappearing from higher security locations and, soon after, from offices, cars and even homes. Physical keys will eventually be replaced by biometric and multi-layered security solutions. As a new form of security, fingerprint scanning is already becoming common in electronic door locks.
The Internet of Things expanding to our homes in the form of security cameras, alarm systems, and audio-visual devices connected by Wi-Fi, causes an ever-increasing threat. According to some experts, every device that is connected to Internet should be considered as hacked to start with. Overall, digital crime is something urban dwellers will nead to consider in all aspects of their city life.
On the bright side, several security-related fields are anticipated to experience great advances. The best examples of this are the dramatic decrease in traffic deaths thanks to robotization, increasing information security provided by blockchain, and crime-preventing and -solving smart surveillance systems.
THE CITY OF THE FUTURE
Futures Platform’s future cities foresight radar shows that the city of the future will be busy, smart, and automated. It also shows that our role in them might look quite unrecognizable in the years to come. Our work will not only be more mobile. It will also rest on different principles.
With most future developments, including the ones mentioned in this article, there is uncertainty with regards to the speed of change and often no way to be sure about which flavor of a technology, business model or way of organizing public services and running a city becomes dominant. The best way to thrive in the quickly evolving and uncertain environment is be to be prepared for a variety of alternative futures, monitor trends and anticipate change. Those equipped with solid strategic foresight are best positioned to provide value to inhabitants of future cities.