Transforming cities: Visions of a better future

By 2025 city populations in developing countries are expect to double. What will best prepare cities for this massive growth? How will residents cope? Mayors, architects, bankers, slum activists and entrepreneurs explored these and other burning questions at a recent Rockefeller Foundation-backed meeting. Learn what they had to say in our “Transforming Cities: Visions of a better future” report and video

Some of the key urban trends identified in the report include: 

  1. Poor planning/short-termism: In a resource-stretched and politically volatile world, governments will most likelymake decisions that solve urgent problems but fail to address long-term issues.Causes will include rapid urbanization and poor governance. Effects will include increased pressure on services and dysfunctional cities and housing markets.
  2. Vulnerability to climate shocks: The Asian tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 made visible the impactof climate change on coastal cities. As the planet’s temperatures further rise, sowill the frequency and intensity of storms, floods, drought and heat waves. Amongthe causes of cities’ vulnerability will be poor planning, short-term governancetime horizons and increased exposure as coastal urban populations grow. Effects include infrastructure breakdown, business disruption and the marginalization ofthe poor in increasingly vulnerable neighborhoods.
  3. Decentralization and grassroots action: Many cities will provide insufficient or poor quality citywide public services. As aresponse, affluent communities will meet their own security, water, energy, andtransportation needs through private sources. But, increasingly, poor urbandwellers will do the same, as a response to public service failure. They will create their own private alternatives to solve urban problems. The potentially positive sideeffects of such local action will include more resilience and localism, and betterlocal governance. But weaker central planning may also be a consequence.
  4. Division within the city: Many poor city dwellers will have few livelihood options. The flow of scarce municipal resources to more affluent areas also means basic public services will rarely reachthose most in need. The response will often be unrest in underserved areas andambivalence in fenced-off pockets of affluence. This vicious cycle will diminish the quality of public services such as mass transit and vital water, waste-collection and power-provision services.
  5. ICT/Access to information/Big data: Planners will increasingly harness data and analytics to fine-tune or deliver newservices. Insights gleaned may also fuel profound change through campaigns or protests. Effects will include a more active citizenry, better local governance,greater individualism, more opportunity for creative entrepreneurial activity, and social protests. However, data will also present issues linked to ownership, privacy,undesirable use of data and compensation for its use.
  6. Social protest: Mass demonstrations in Brazil and Iran are just two recent examples of groups harnessing an upswell of frustration through social media to push for change.The causes are complex and varied. They include insecure livelihoods, autocratic leaders, rising food prices, the poor quality of infrastructure and insufficient schools.These movements may grow along with their key drivers. In response, new forms of governance will emerge.

What can be done to address these urban challenges? Find out in the "Transforming cities: Visions of a better future" report and video