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Cities of the future

Cities of the future

Living in today’s cities exposes individuals to the harsh realities of urbanization. Rapid population growth and migration from rural areas have resulted in overcrowding, strained infrastructure, and increased demand for resources and services. One of the most prominent challenges cities face is traffic congestion, a by-product of high population density and the large number of vehicles. This congestion wastes time and fuel, contributes to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and hampers mobility. To illustrate this challenge, we can look at cities like Los Angeles and our very own Harare, where heavy traffic congestion is a daily struggle for residents, leading to significant time and productivity losses.

Many cities, particularly in the developed world, grapple with poor air quality, primarily due to vehicle emissions, industrial activities, and other sources. This issue adversely affects public health and the environment. For example, cities like Delhi, India, have been notorious for their severe air pollution, leading to respiratory problems and other health issues for the residents. Inadequate and aging infrastructure is another challenge faced by cities. Water and sewage systems, public transportation, and utilities often require substantial investment and maintenance to meet the needs of growing urban populations.

The array of challenges extends to a shortage of affordable housing, leading to rising housing costs, homelessness, and social inequality. Cities are increasingly becoming vulnerable to extreme weather events, and other impacts of climate change, requiring efforts to adapt and build resilience. The stark disparities in income and access to education, healthcare, and other resources in cities lead to social tension and reduced opportunities for marginalized communities. Lastly, issues such as access to healthcare, sanitation, and the spread of infectious diseases are exacerbated by the high population density in urban areas. In this digital era, it is disturbing that not all urban residents have equal access to digital technologies and the Internet, which can exacerbate existing social and economic contradictions.

The above complex maze of interconnected challenges requires a holistic approach that draws attention to human aspirations for urban development to address environmental, social and economic challenges. The concepts of “Sustainable city,” “green city,” and “smart city”, albeit with some overlaps, come up for discussion as ideal cities of the future as each emphasizes the different aspects of urban planning and development.

A sustainable city aims to minimize environmental impact while promoting a high quality of life for residents. These cities prioritize energy reduction, waste minimization, water conservation, green spaces, and efficient transportation systems. They adopt renewable energy sources, sustainable building practices, and environmentally friendly infrastructure.

Green cities share similarities with sustainable cities, with a specific emphasis on environmental conservation and the integration of natural spaces within the urban environment. Urban gardening, tree planting, parks, green corridors, and the preservation of natural habitats are prioritized in green cities. They also focus on reducing pollution and promoting eco-friendly practices among residents and businesses.

Smart cities leverage technology and data to improve urban services, enhance residents’ quality of life, and foster economic development. These cities utilize digital technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, and connectivity to optimize energy use, transportation systems, waste management, and public safety. The goal is to create interconnected, efficient, and resident-responsive cities.

In practice, these concepts are not mutually exclusive, and many cities aspire to incorporate elements of sustainability, environmental friendliness, and technology-driven efficiency into their urban planning and development strategies. The ultimate aim is to create environmentally responsible, socially inclusive, and economically viable cities for current and future generations.

Cities of the future are envisioned to be innovative, sustainable, and resilient urban environments that leverage technology, data, and forward-thinking urban planning to address the complex challenges posed by population growth, environmental concerns, and social dynamics. Several key characteristics and trends are often associated with the concept of cities of the future:

Future cities must prioritize sustainability by promoting renewable energy sources, energy-efficient buildings, green spaces, and sustainable transportation options. These cities aim to minimize their environmental impact, reduce carbon emissions, and adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

It is further envisioned that future cities will likely incorporate advanced digital technologies and data-driven solutions to optimize infrastructure and services, including smart grids, efficient public transportation, intelligent traffic management, and responsive utilities. These technologies can improve resource management, enhance public safety, and streamline urban operations.

Future cities are designed to be resilient to environmental, social, and economic challenges. This includes planning for climate change adaptation, implementing disaster-resistant infrastructure, and developing strategies to address water scarcity, extreme weather events, and public health emergencies.

Cities of the future are expected to be highly connected, with widespread access to high-speed internet, integrated transportation systems, and digital platforms for citizen engagement and service delivery. This connectivity can foster economic development, improve access to education and healthcare, and enhance the quality of life for residents.

Future cities will likely prioritize sustainable and efficient transportation options, such as public transit, cycling infrastructure, pedestrian-friendly designs, and shared mobility services. This can reduce congestion, air pollution, and reliance on individual car ownership.

Cities of the future aspire to be inclusive and equitable, with urban planning that addresses social disparities, promotes affordable housing, and ensures access to essential services for all residents. This includes designing public spaces accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

Future cities may embrace the concept of a circular economy, in which resources are used efficiently, waste is minimized, and materials are recycled and reused to create a more sustainable and resilient urban environment.

Future cities are expected to be centres of innovation and entrepreneurship, fostering collaboration between academia, industry, and government to drive technological advancements, economic growth, and job creation.

In the Zimbabwean context, the creation of cities of the future is a multidisciplinary product from various government ministries collaborating since they are envisioned as dynamic, adaptable, and sustainable hubs of human activity that strive to meet the needs of residents while preserving the natural environment and fostering inclusive, thriving communities. Achieving these goals will require urban planners, policymakers, technologists, businesses, and citizens to conspire to create resilient, sustainable, and responsive cities that meet the needs of a rapidly changing world.

Article compiled by Mike Eric Juru, the Chairman of the Green Buildings Council of Zimbabwe, who writes in his capacity and can be contacted at 0773805000 or by email at [email protected]


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