Great Foresight Needed in Planning our Cities

Many cities are struggling to cope with population growth and the challenges of climate change and depleting energy resources.

Having worked with city planning strategies in Melbourne, and researched many others from across the globe including those of Los Angeles, London, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro, one key challenge is in ensuring that strategic plans for major urban centres are robust and adaptable enough to withstand the pressures of population fluctuations and economic instability.

At present, most are not, as population and economic growth are the very cornerstones upon which the plans themselves are conceived.

City planning strategies acknowledge a need to address a wide range of challenges, including:

  • Significant population growth in urban areas.
  • Increased urbanisation of the developing world, with disadvantaged people making up a large part of future urban growth.
  • Congestion and the cost of providing urban transport systems.
  • Energy shortages, particularly during peak demand times.
  • Climate change, including such impacts of climate change as water shortages, extreme weather events and drought.
  • The need for infrastructure investment to keep pace with population growth.
  • Regional competition between cities for resources.
  • Escalating costs of living.
  • Inability of short-term election cycles to address long-term needs.
  • Growing disenchantment with conventional political systems and structures.
  • Reducing the taxation base to fund required expenses.

These are complex problems with a variety of different origins and drivers.  There are often no easy answers in sight.

Opportunities for our cities in overcoming future challenges will differ from the way we have done things in the past and still do things today. A linear projection of the past is unlikely to provide us with much in the way of useful data to determine our course over a long-term future. We are also unlikely to find “answers” to these future challenges through “hard science” or new technological discoveries alone.

There is a great need for qualitative measures to assist with our analysis, reasoning, and planning for cities. This requires innovative thinking and new approaches to be considered. This must go beyond visioning a desired future, and delve into forecasting a probable future.

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September 21, 2012

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