The Future of Cities

By Gregory Hodkinson - Posted December 05, 2016

Value and resilience lie at the heart of future cities

Cities are now the epicentre of our global challenges. They are microcosms of the contradictions that are fuelling the frustrations of voters and leaders alike. On the one hand they are the great sources of wealth generation, employment and social mobility. On the other, they are the centres of inequality, overcrowding and even radicalisation. The success, or failure, of our cities has become increasingly linked to how we will succeed, or fail, as a global society.

As a result, one of the key questions for our shared future is how to design urban environments that can support the economic momentum we need to drive productivity and wealth creation while mitigating social and environmental impacts within a more sustainable, resilient city.

As cities have learnt to compete for globally mobile talent they have enhanced their cultural offer, public realm and leisure mix. The young have voted with their feet and pursued those offering the greatest lifestyle choices, attracting global employers to the ever greater pool of talented labour. The positive effects of agglomeration policies are clearly visible across the globe.

Yet the successes of these policies are creating conditions which risk their very future as globally competitive entities. Lack of affordable housing, pressure on public services and the inability of transport systems to keep up with population growth have made these living environments harder for the young and uncomfortable for older generations. Ultimately, those who can will vote with their feet and move on. The cities that achieve the right balance between economic growth and affordability are likely to be the long term winners.

Sharing ideas for solving many of these challenges lies at the heart of the work Arup does with city leaders and city shapers worldwide, either directly or in partnership with organisations such as the World Economic Forum, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership group or the Rockefeller Foundation. Worldwide, cities are grappling with many of the same problems – connectivity to provide access to jobs, homes, and social amenities; security and safety; and the challenge of affordable housing in fast-growing, successful cities, especially for critical workers such as firefighters, police, and hospital staff.

Arup’s focus has always been on value and resilience – securing more for longer from the investments made in cities, whether it be the cross-city transits costing billions, buildings that facilitate growth, or the small scale insertions of public spaces that transform neighbourhoods. We aim to look at our projects from a city perspective, e.g. viewing a railway as a regeneration tool first, people mover second.

When we take this approach we create the potential for new and recycled sources of funding in ways that both cope with immediate needs whilst providing resilience for the future.

To many post-industrialised nations, this rapid urbanisation is nothing new. To others, it is a live issue. Regardless of the stage of evolution of cities the global phenomena of limited resources, increased population demand and more risk-averse sources of finance mean that value and resilience driven responses will be essential to continued competitiveness and affordability.

Gregory Hodkinson
Chairman, Arup

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