What will the cities of the future look like?

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We live in uncertain times where uncertainty is the norm.

We can - and must - plan to manage the challenges that are already evident, but always with an eye on an environment that is increasingly changing and unstable. In the era of climate chaos, adaptability will be an even more important factor for the cities of the future, which will also have to adapt to something equally problematic but even more immediate in its effects: the rising cost and gradual disappearance of non-renewable energy sources (oil, coal, gas, uranium), which currently provide more than 80% of primary energy. In other words, a little more than four-fifths of what sustains our essential systems, transport, food, etc., depends on energy sources that must be left in the ground if we are to avoid further destabilizing the climate, and which, moreover, are rapidly depleting. The case of nuclear energy is very complex, but we cannot bet on an energy that represents a tremendous debt for the future of the following generations that will have to manage a huge amount of waste, with less and less energy available.

Faced with this situation, trying to stay in the same place, stubbornly unchanging ourselves is simply a chimera, and therefore many proposals are emerging to transition to a city model that can be more resilient to this new era. Let's analyze some of the most promising ones:

15 Minute Cities:

To summarize the proposal very much, it would be about redesigning current cities so that it is possible to live in them in such a way that it only takes 15 minutes (walking, cycling or public transport) to access the basic needs of any person. There are seven basic functions that must be fulfilled: work, live, shop, education, health and cultural services, and rest in harmony with nature.

It is a proposal that emerged from the head of the technologist and professor at the Sorbonne, Carlos Moreno. This French-Colombian has been special advisor for Urban Planning to the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, for the past five years. The mayor and the city that are putting the most effort in the bet, although other cities such as Milan, Melbourne or Barcelona are also seeking to modify based on these principles.

Ecology, proximity, solidarity and participation would be the premises defended in this model, which is of great interest to large cities seeking to redefine themselves and adapt to times in which decomplexification will be partly inevitable. This proposal seeks to make the different neighborhoods and districts of large cities increasingly autonomous and independent. Decentralize services, and even political decision-making, to bring them closer to those who are most affected by them. And to decentralize and bring proximity services closer to the different nuclei, also develop sustainable mobility to interconnect these same areas.

Another key part of the proposal is to offer rentals at prices outside real estate speculation to projects that fulfill the necessary functions. We seem to be beginning to understand that the market cannot solve problems - inequality, unsustainability, etc - that the market itself has helped to create.

Transition cities:

An older proposal but one that perhaps has even more of a future are transition cities. Emerging in the United Kingdom in the first moments of the economic crisis that began in the first decade of the 21st century, this proposal is radically clear: they are defined as a proposal that seeks to detoxify Western cities from fossil fuels. Abandon oil before it abandons us. The first steps of the idea were taken in the English city of Totnes, the hand of the permaculturist and writer Rob Hopkins, who managed to quickly disseminate the proposal and by September 2008 were already hundreds of towns and cities officially recognized as transition communities in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, Italy, United States and Chile.

These initiatives are often based on permaculture, degrowth, "zero kilometer" food proposals to increase food sovereignty, or social currencies to make these cities more sustainable in the face of the scenarios of declining energy availability that we will face in this XXI century, and that, for example, the philosopher, poet and mathematician Jorge Riechmann, has defined as the Century of the Great Test.

Community gardens, "repair cafés", intentional communities and projects for the reuse and recycling of waste are other signs of these prototypes of cities that seek a greater adaptation to the limits.

What is being observed is that this proposal is more made to work in small or medium-sized municipalities, as opposed to the previous one, more designed for large cities. In any case, these ideas have already helped transform more than 50 countries.

And there are other proposals that could help define the path of these inevitable transitions. Also in 2008, the Solarpunk ideology took off from the web and literature into the tangible. A few years later, in 2014 a researcher at the University of Arizona, Adam Flynn came up with a manifesto that defined the movement as: "a future in which high technology is put at the service of humans and the environment.". This defines the commitment to solar roofs and self-consumption, but not only. Also for wind energy, sustainable design and architecture.

Stories like these, of imaginative utopias that seek to counteract the supposedly paralyzing effect of dystopias, can have a very positive effect on many people who otherwise would not find the strength to take the first steps. Although if one looks honestly and fixedly at the dimension of the problem, perhaps we need both sides of the story, as anthropologist Yayo Herrero states. One so as not to let ourselves be carried away by the mirage of progress and the other so that we do not remain in the grip of it and do nothing. We welcome the multiplicity of proposals according to the contexts. To solve complex problems we need complex thinking.

About the Author

Juan Bordera

Journalist and content creator.

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