Future Cities: Addressing complexity in the age of shared value

Across the world, new urban models are being invented and constructed before our eyes: from postindustrial cities seeking regeneration (Coventry, Detroit and Charleroi) to technological utopias striving to be world leaders (Masdar in the UAE and Songdo in South Korea are the gold standards) to over-populated megalopolises looking for fluidity (Mexico City, Lagos and Singapore for example).

Despite the different scales and social contexts, all of these places have something in common: they must all deal with the unprecedented intricacy of today’s urban fabric. ‘Complexity’ has become the catch phrase of an urbanism that is still searching for solutions. The repercussions of this change of paradigm are numerous, for the city as well as for those who operate within it.

Scott Smith, an American futurist who heads up the agency Changeist, talks about “the secular failure of planned urbanism” – a statement that no architect or urbanist has been able to refute. According to him, “the socioeconomic complexity of the world has caused the structures imposed by the urban ecosystem to falter.

City-dwellers live complex, chaotic lives: urban planning needs to offer flexibility and give its inhabitants the opportunity to create their own environments”. This edict can be translated as a necessity to grow the skills involved with the “science” of city development and notably citizen involvement. He describes an urban “tapestry”, as bold as it is intricate, created by increasing stakeholder involvement in the development of the urban fabric. Previously, this involvement was reserved exclusively for those working directly in the sector (architects, urbanists, developers or transporters).

Today, urban science extends to many third-party disciplines – such as telecommunications providers, artists and designers, managers, without forgetting financial engineers, whose skills have become essential for those places that are yearning to invent new models. While developing these capacities is a pre-requisite for the cities of the future, it is also clear that moving into this new era also means adding yet another layer of complexity. 

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