Note: This is my entry for the Masdar Engage Blogging Contest, part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2015.
My vision for the ideal city of 2030 is not merely a “less bad” version of the cities we have today. Rather, it exemplifies an inspiring transformation based on the convergence of three themes: Sustainability, equity, and beauty.
The city’s ecological footprint will not exceed its carrying capacity, reconciling the built and natural environment and creating greater opportunities resilience over time.
Net Positive Energy: New buildings will be “net positive”, generating more than 100% of their energy needs through various on-site systems, from building-integrated photovoltaic/thermal systems to algae. Surplus energy will be distributed to adjacent buildings.
Human-Building Interaction: Mobile devices and wearable computing will provide dynamic feedback to a building’s HVAC system and facade, which will adapt to provide optimal thermal and visual comfort. Real-time monitoring of building performance will generate friendly competition and encourage people to operate their building efficiently, creating a “virtuous cycle” of improvement. To reduce plug loads, tenants will cooperate with building owners by agreeing to an energy allowance and only paying for the energy use that exceeds that budget.
Water & Nutrients: Water needs will be provided entirely from decentralized site- and district-scale rainwater harvesting, treated on-site, and cycled in a way that respects the natural water balance. Nutrients from human waste will be collected and stored for use as fertilizer.
Food: A food strategy will improve affordability and accessibility at different scales, from edible food forests to hydroponic greenhouses on rooftops and rivers.
Ecology: Ecosystem services will be integrated into built environment, increasing biodiversity and reducing life-cycle operational costs. Damaged ecosystems will be restored through “rewilding”.
Mobility: By 2030, 60% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. Priority will therefore be given to short-range, low-carbon mobility options like walking, cycling and pedal/solar assist hybrid vehicles. Autonomous electric vehicles will use solar charging stations and be connected with existing public transit, solving the “last mile” problem. Private vehicles will be rendered obsolete through a ‘mobility on-demand‘ system that integrates all forms of transport into a single payment network.
Healthy Materials: Materials will be ecologically regenerative and have no negative impact on human and ecosystem health. An open-source database will disclose ingredients and life-cycle impacts (similar to a nutrition label). At the end of their useful life, products will be upcycled, rather than merely recycled.
The ideal city recognizes people as “citizens” rather than “consumers”. A society of empowered citizens is one that is in the best position to protect and restore the natural environment that sustains us.
Humanity: Social cohesion will be fostered through appropriately-scaled design focusing on people rather than cars or an overreliance on complex technology. It will be kid-friendly, with plenty of places to learn, interact and play.
Health: Active design strategies will be seamlessly integrated indoors and out, providing opportunities for physical activity throughout the day. Some expressways will be converted into walkable green space which will benefit local businesses.
Social Economy: Just as Uber and Airbnb have transformed and democratized their markets, citizens will start local food swapping communities and peer-to-peer distributed energy networks. Cities, banks, corporations, and citizens will help fund environmental projects through innovative investment mechanisms like Kickstarter and green bonds.
Plato knew the importance of beauty: it can whisper truths to us about the good life by embodying qualities like goodness, harmony, wisdom, and humility. It helps to educate our souls. The city will therefore foster a philosophy of good design and be imbued with beauty and meaning, reinforcing our collective pursuit of sustainability and equity.
Art: Public art will be used as an outlet for personal expression. The city will be free of excessive billboards and outdoor advertising.
Biophilia: Biophilia–humans’ instinctive bond with living systems–will be integrated into products, buildings, and infrastructure by adhering to biophilic design principles.
Uniqueness: Local ecology, culture and history will be celebrated. New buildings will integrate traditional design concepts, from the familiar Emirati falaj (qanat) irrigation system, to the esoteric Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi and Danish notion of hygge.
Cosmic Connection: Light pollution severs our connection to the cosmos. Dark-sky preserves and urban star parks will be created, allowing the stars to once again become clearly visible and providing people with a broader perspective of our personal and planetary connection to the universe and our fragile place within it.
This is my vision for the ideal city of 2030: Sustainable. Equitable. Beautiful.