What will our future cities look like?

Published in Indesign’s 2009 ZoneIndesign cities section, I summarised capital city council plans and linked these to Arup’s global innovation director Dr Chris Luebkeman’s thoughts on the city of 2060. “I always work in multiple plausible futures.” How many of the details do you recognise?

What will our future cities look like?

By Deborah Singerman

Cities – we rejoice in them, are exasperated by them, travel, work, eat, sleep and converse in them. Yet, how many of us ask what we, rather than governments, want from them?

Expressed most clearly in the title of Melbourne’s updated 2030 plan, Melbourne @ 5 million, population growth is the overriding concern, Metropolitan strategies and policies from Sydney and New South Wales to Greater Adelaide and South Australia, Western Australia and the revised South East Queensland Regional Plan show the same preoccupation, albeit tackled by each state with different emphases and planned integration with existing and new infrastructure.

Alleviating traffic congestion, balancing land releases and housing affordability, creating sustainable, liveable, and economically viable cities with amenity, biodiversity, human diversity, and density including mini-city, activity district and peripheral area mixes (as suggested in several Australian institute of Architects’ Venice Biennale Cities 2050+ ideas) are the grand statements.

Giving extra frisson and expectation of serious intent, NSW Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Anthony Albanese has proposed a National Infrastructure Policy, expected in 2010.

This, he says, will provide a national planning, sustainable development and investment framework for government and the private sector to meet urban challenges, such as better housing design, than the current unsustainable mismatch “between demographic trends and housing stock”. And with Intergenerational Report forecasts of a national population of 35 million by 2049 (a 60 % increase, mostly in cities) Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has proposed national planning criteria for cities to be eligible for federal funding, including “world class design and associated architectural integrity” – although this is yet to be defined.

Dr Chris Luebkeman, Director of Global Foresight and Innovation at the Arup Group and Visiting Professor at the University of New South Wales Faculty of Engineering and Professor Alec Tzannes, Dean of the UNSW’s Faculty of the Built Environment and Design Director of Tzannes Associates, were speaker and panel members respectively at a forum on imagining the next 60 years.

Most people live in urban areas under 5000,000 inhabitants, Luebkeman says. This is in contrast to the “big romantic tourist cities” that people mostly think of when cities are mentioned. With a global population approaching 9 or 10 billion in 2070, demographics will be a big driver.


Luebkeman believes cities will remain as differentiated as they are today, but that these factors (many already inn evidence) will cut across them. Climate change with devastating droughts, urban growth and migration, food and consumption patterns, poverty and life expectancy, energy and economic growth, will affect us all. The resulting balance of influence embedded within a framework for change he calls STEEP (Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental and Political factors) leads to Luebkman’’s four plausible futures.


There are different weightings for human development (life expectancy, adult literacy and standard of living) and planetary health including biodiversity, pollution and abundance the consumption-driven Selfish Bubble has security, disease and resources fears; Vortex of Despair, a further downward spiral, is a planetary nightmare with huge emissions, mass migration and shrinking food supply.; Carbon is Crime has rigid global climate governance, de-carbonisation and re-use, but wealth disparities; and the Ecological Age – positively – embraces resources efficiency, corporate accountability , stabilised population growth, planetary care and maximised human living standards.


“I believe that in order for homo sapiens to have a viable longevity on the planet we have to get to the Ecological Age. But we will be heading into one of the other three worlds before we get there.”

Tzannnes is optimistic both about instantaneous global communication and people’s desire to socialism, negotiate ad be near services and recreation (“theatres won’t go away”). This means cities will in fact endure. He is also confident that energy will be clean, though worries about its safety under a nuclear option.

Cities will have better public rail networks, smaller vehicles and more offices with atriums as “climate modifiers”. Environmentally appropriate buildings will not be afraid of traditional technology, such as sash windows and solid brick walls, while using double-skinned glazing for heating and cooling. Planning controls will be environmentally directed, and the citizens will assert that government “deliver a fabulously designed public domains”.

“As the world becomes more international, we will increasingly value unique craft, and individual local culture and its interpretation of the world physically as a design, Nobody wants to go to a second-rate version of something else. They want to go to the first-rate, authentic version.”

Luebkeman believes urban citizens will increasingly recognise the “intimate relationship (ignored today), between production and consumption, and the fundamental dependency between the urban dweller and the suburban rural community.” With the anticipated growth in the number of 80, 90 and 100 year-olds, we need to create “places and spaces for what I call multi-generational exchange,” says Luebkeman, such as pocket parks, simple mass transit, small buses.

Waste become a “misallocated resource”. ‘Resource accounts’ debit what we consume and use, and credit exercise, for example. “Buildings will know who is where and how we are doing what.” They will also “have to be magnitudes more efficient their occupation and running than they are today; single-pane glazing office towers till be almost inexcusable.

“I always work in multiple plausible futures. Each needs to be internally coherent have a logical build and clear consequences. Plans need to be tested against each one. It’s not a matter of single projects compensating for all future change – every bit has to help”