Big cities have always been a big draw, for those looking for work, for a better way of life, to meet new people. This has been true over the centuries as the industrial revolution took hold and continues today as more people and more businesses and organisations gather and lay roots in specific places.
As the global population grows the numbers of those living in large cities will grow in parallel and it’s expected that by 2050 70% of the world’s population will live in an urban environment. This population growth, that includes a larger global middle class, will put demands on already finite resources. The way we extract and use materials, energy and water has to change. The current system will be unable to continue providing us with limitless stuff.
This will require strategic, long-term thinking, particularly when it comes to urban planning and policy. Speaking at a seminar at the recent RWM exhibition Wayne Hubbard, chief operating officer at The London Waste & Recycling Board, said: ‘Sixty per cent of the infrastructure required by 2050 has yet to be built. Populations living in high density brings more opportunities for efficiencies under a higher concentration of resources.’
So while there will be many changes ahead it is essential that the planning and strategic thinking considers everything needed to cater for future population growth. It will require greater collaboration across different industries, the public sector, private businesses as well as social enterprises as we’ve never seen before. Vital to ensure resources are utilised as best they can.
Much will be driven by improvements in new technology and companies are spending vast amounts on research and development and pilot schemes to use these different technologies. These range from the basic digitisation that most businesses employ to advanced mapping, data collection, automated vehicles and artificial intelligence, where the technology learns as it goes along continually improving on what it can do, to name a few. While not everything will succeed or exist in five years time the appetite is there to find different, improved ways of doing things.
Photo credit: Liangfeng
One thing that must not be forgotten is the environmental impact some of this technology will have. What types of materials are being used, where do they come from and how much energy is used in the making, life and disposal of the products or technology? Providing a solution for more efficient living should not be to the detriment of something else.
And greater collaboration requires engaging with the humans, an integral element when introducing change or a different way of living. Essential from the outset of the process, not bolted on at the end as a nice to have. Without the input of people we will be unable to bring about the change required. It is important that those living in the urban environments have a say in the way that they will live, how new infrastructure and technological changes will shape their lives. Without this engagement and interaction the best possible solutions will not be able to flourish. Ignore the people at your peril.
2050 may seem a long way off, that no one can predict the future with great accuracy. But by adopting a long-term approach, rather than implementing short-term, ad-hoc policies we have a better chance to make the most of the resources to hand.