Attempting to discuss the future of our cities in a 900-word blogpost is like asking a 15-year-old to stop using Snapchat for a week: something bordering on the impossible. Why? Because approaching the future of cities is like approaching the future of society as a whole.
54% of the global population live in urban areas and rising (on the African continent in particular, with an increase from 455 million in 2014 to an expected 770 million in 2030).
Cities now hold the bulk of humanity. From the tangible buildings to the human activity they welcome, the notion of the city is a vast and complex one. If defining ‘the city’ is a challenge, how to go about discussing its future? In a highly nuanced and non-exhaustive way, that’s how. It might be a tall order, but we thought we’d give it a go.
Lo and behold, here are the three Cs that will structure the future of where and how we live.
Needless to say, connectivity is already a defining feature of our contemporary society. Through our phones, Apple watches or smart home devices like Alexa or Amazon Echo, hardly a minute passes when we aren’t connected to the outside world. This brings us closer together, physically and emotionally. Zenly, OneRagtime’s portfolio company that was acquired by Snapchat in June 2017 for $250m, for example, allows you to locate your friends on an interactive map. More than ensuring you never miss out on a party, it gives a new, personal dimension to the city or town you live in. Now you can measure the distance between you and the people you love rather than the time it will take you to get from A to B.
This virtual connectivity will translate into physical connectivity in the city of the future. Getting around is going to be a lot cheaper, quicker and greener. According to Deloitte Insights, we will witness two simultaneous evolutions in the mobility field:
1. The driverless revolution will bring about a form of accessible autonomy, transforming our experience of daily commutes.
2. Car ownership will considerably decrease, as sharing will be simplified and a much cheaper solution to owning a vehicle you use twice a month.
As part of this transformation, car pooling and sharing will become the new norm, as it addresses the issues of congestion and parking space in overpopulated environments. The French unicorn BlaBlaCar is a trailblazer in that domain, offering a platform for long-distance carpooling and now counting over 40 million users and boasting a valuation of over $1.6 billion.
Projects such as BlaBlaCar reveal not only a change in the transportation industry, but also a shift in people’s consumer habits and desires. Younger generations are growing up in the sharing economy age, and with this prefer spending money on experiences rather than the material. Thanks to the connectivity afforded by today’s technology, many are also discovering the wonders of exchanging and selling second hand. This connectivity helps develop a more circular economy, in which raw materials are swapped and recycled. There is so much already in circulation, why not try to make better use of what we have already rather than producing and spending more? The benefits of this economic model have very tangible results and will certainly contribute to making the city of the future a cleaner, but also wealthier space. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, by 2025, an estimated $1 trillion USD could be saved thanks to material recycling in the industrial sector.
Climate change is real. And it’s happening now. Consequently, every single decision we make about the future must factor in sustainability. This necessity is linked to the idea of connectivity mentioned above. Sharing, reusing, giving away are all part of the circular economy that many people today are trying to adopt. We are moving constantly towards conscious consumption in every field, from energy to water, including clothes, food and technologies.
Sustainability will be a key pillar in the construction of tomorrow’s city. From designing buildings that will be powered entirely by renewable energy to waste reduction projects on both personal and industrial levels, the ways of going green are endless. Cityoffuture.org regroups some of the best and most diverse sustainable inventions out there. In the start-up world, many projects are being encouraged through various initiatives, such as the Green programme launched by Startup Europe that promotes green tech companies. One project that follows this spirit is Agricool, a start-up that developed a new way of cultivating strawberries. They’re local, devoid of pesticides and use 90% less water than traditional strawberry plantations. This makes them not only greener, but also a lot more delicious!
To reverse global warming, we’re therefore going to need impactful and immediate change. And although a local strawberry plantation may seem anecdotal, these (niche) start-ups are the kernels and catalysts for wider government and corporate action.
And indeed, technology is transforming energy production at a much larger scale as well. The International Energy Agency has tracked the different clean energy technologies and how well their development is doing with regard to maintaining the overall global warming level to less than 2 degrees. Electric vehicles, energy storage and solar PV and onshore wind electricity generation are the three categories that are qualified as being “on track”. 2 million electric cars are currently in circulation, with sales growing exponentially (40% from 2015 to 2016), and deployed storage reached 930 megawatts in 2016.
What we can take away from these facts and figures is that we are all responsible and must all get involved, in the ways that we can. Ok, speech over.
With today’s emerging innovation, sustainability doesn’t have to be at the expense of comfort. In fact, quite the contrary. Many urbanisation projects that have the environment in mind also lead to higher living standards. Such is the case with restricting cars’ access to city centres and developing more efficient public transport such as buses that drive over cars for example. Before you start getting too excited, this invention is still only a fabulous project that isn’t implemented yet. But China is working hard on making it a reality to deal with the terrible traffic situation in many of its cities. These projects have considerable advantages: less pollution, less noise, more green areas and pedestrian spaces.
In terms of bringing more comfort to our lives, robots have a big role to play, and will most definitely become part of the urban scenery as their technology continues to improve at great speed. Rxrobots has developed a robot that helps children in hospital get through difficult operations by interacting with them. The cutting-edge technology deployed by Boston Dynamics is creating robots with impressive capacities and mobility. Although their role is not clearly defined, they are already proving a great help to people with physical disabilities, and their realm of action certainly doesn’t stop there.
Such initiatives and inventions must, however, strive to be inclusive. Indeed, it is all too easy to declutter city centres and relegate terrible traffic to the suburbs, that usually house less privileged social groups. And if robots are only affordable by private health institutions, they lose a lot of their purpose. The creators of the city of tomorrow must bear in mind the urgent need to bridge growing inequalities between the rich and the poor. Technology in itself is great news for humanity and can be a fantastic tool in the fight against inequality in access to education, clean water, health services and more. Sunspring, a solar power water treatment system designed by Innovative Water Technologies is the perfect example of how technology can be used for good.
The potential for future cities is huge when we bring together and start leveraging the power of creative minds and new technologies. At OneRagtime we’ll be looking closely in these transforming areas for future investments, where an incredible scope for scalability meets the limitless potential of improving our future societies for the better.