The world’s urban Population is set to double from the current 3.4 billion to 6.3 billion by 2050, according the United Nations. India will be at the forefront of this urban rise. Keep in mind that the scale and pace of the urbanization that India is going to experience in the coming century is unprecedented by history. It requires us to act fast or we will have to deal with social and environmental crisis of disastrous proportions.
The present set of problems that the world faces in area of environment, poverty and health; demands that India craft a vision of an entirely new developmental model. The manner in which cities have grown in the past thousand years has been acceptable up till now. But we are at a tipping point at the moment and we need to choose a new path.
Think about it- The world simply cannot continue to grow in the current model. The current model of development that is employed in the most advanced economies of the world doesn’t allow all the population of the world to use its resources fairly. For example – Today even though less than 5 percent of the world’s 6.45 billion people live in the United States, this small population consumes roughly 25 percent of the world’s resources. According to some estimates, the average American consumes five times more energy than the average global citizen, 10 times more than the average Chinese, and nearly 20 times more than the average Indian. If everyone in our planet were to live the average American lifestyle, then we would require 5.3 planets. The current developmental model only allows the rich to live a certain quality of life at the expense of the poor.
So clearly, the world simply cannot develop in the current model of growth. It would simply be implausible to move our entire population towards a reasonable level of “Human Development Index” with the current models of growth – Simply because we don’t have resources to sustain it. So does that mean that we stop all development and halt the progress of our civilization? Well no. It means that we need to conceive a brand new type of development model.
At this point , I also have to highlight that cities in many ways are the appropriate model for the future. Cities, in fact, allow all of us to share resources and they are the most efficient way for human civilization to distribute its resources fairly while conserving its important flora , fauna and biodiversity. But we need to relook the way we perceive the city.
In the current developmental Model – we seem to talk about a host of non-renewable resources. But we miss the most important – Land. Arable land that grows food and nurtures the planet earth and its inhabitants (both humans, and other flora and fauna) is limited. Without food, humankind cannot survive; people will die of hunger. The current model of Urbanization is threatening our food supply and the existence of our planet. We need to conserve land desperately and come up with a new type of developmental model.
The future urban development model of the world will conserve land vehemently. Instead of converting hundreds of acres of farmland into development zones like today; Urbanization of the future will have to be creating farms and forests in already developed zones. Multi-layered high density towers will be the way to achieve this development model as they are the best way to ensure compact urban centers. In today’s times– High density development has been equaled to skyscrapers which are only seen in an iconic manner. But high density towers will have to be seen as a tool to reduce our ecological footprint. The design and form of the high density towers of the future will again be different. The high-rise of the future will be small cities in themselves and will be self sufficient pods. The mega towers of the future will have multiple levels of gardens, parks and farms in the sky. They will have vertical networks of mass- transport: The elevators of today will act like networks of mass-transit similar to subways / rails of today and will transport millions of people.
Instead of just using energy – our cities will be producing energy. The cities of the future will conserve every drop of water that falls on us. In essence, the cities of the future will have to increase the bio-capacity of our planet instead of reducing the earth’s bio-capacity. The key task of the infrastructure provider of the future will then have to be about adding to bio-productivity of the planet. At that time – Existing cities will be villages and existing villages merely historic sites. The large quantity of the agrarian economy will be centered in these areas. Most of the world’s population will live in these areas and will rightly leave large parts of our earth for other species .
The megapolis of the future will require a whole new way of thinking, a whole new set of rules and laws. We will not have land rights but we will have space rights since land will be extremely precious. The political reality will be different too. The lowest strata of our society will be treated with great level of respect. The government will provide social housing for the poor like any other basic infrastructure provided by them today.
India’s young population is going to be a great asset in this age. Europe & North America is already aging rapidly and birth rates are far below those necessary to maintain current population levels. Because of its one child policy, China is also set to age rapidly in about 20 years. But more than half of India is below 25 and growing. So India’s youth will be an asset to the world.
In this future – The world’s people will be global citizens due to huge levels of inter geography – migration; and collaboration between people of different regions paving a way for a world with little conflict. There will be tremendous intermingling of people from different cities much like global cities of today and a new global state will evolve. Our talented young people like others across the globe will move between these megapolisis as new economic opportunities come up .
This Article was first published in The Times of India. It is excerpted from The Urban Vision’s Project “Visions: Future Cities”