What’s your city’s competitive advantage?

By Anonymous

During our discussion of city developments over the last few class periods we determined that in order to evaluate a certain development approach we needed to know what goal we were optimizing for. However, in my mind, we neglected a more basic discussion of the theory describing why cities exist and how they have historically been formed. Instead, our approach was mostly along the lines of “Lots of people are moving to cities, so we need more cities. Resources are limited, so we need sustainable cities. Go.”

We skipped two fundamental questions: a) What makes a city a city? and b) What’s your city’s competitive advantage? Continue reading

Measure twice & cut once

By Anonymous

Many people will be discussing the fact that relying on government to create vibrant communities from scratch flies in the face of thousands of years of human development. I do not disagree that the concepts behind these “planned” cities – the Masdars, KAECs and Tianjians – is a fundamental departure from the spontaneous growth of old, but I would argue that the raison d’être for cities has changed and disruption is necessary. In the past cities were built around resources – fresh water, ores (irons etc), fuels and forests – or transportation – natural ports and trade route nodes. When resources dwindled and trade routes changed cities died (Fatehpur Sikri – water, Gunkanjima Japan/Centralia PA – coal).

However, in a world of over-crowded cities, over-stressed public infrastructure, declining natural resources, widening inequality, environmental degradation and steadily rising seas, the disorganized organic conception of cities might not be the best solution. The average population of the 10 most populous cities in the world has risen almost ninefold (from ~2.5M in 1900 to 21.4M in 2005) as the mix of cities in that ranking has shifted from the developed to the developing world (see below – only 4 of the top ten are now in the developed world.) As most of the future growth will be in developing world countries already struggling with infrastructure provision and access to capital, creative solutions must be found to build new and “better” cities and distribute the pressures of urbanization. While I am naturally skeptical of the power of government to make efficient and effective decisions, I think government can play a significant role in hastening the genesis and spread of more livable and sustainable cities in areas of greatest need. Continue reading

Eco-cities and eco-suburbs

By Atulya Mittal

The first question that strikes me when reading about new city developments is a simple one:

“Why”?

My interpretation of a new city is people coming to a common location to pursue a better life. Cities should provide a high quality of life in terms of housing and infrastructure but more importantly, they should provide economic opportunities that draw the most active ingredient of a city – economically active citizens pursuing upward economic mobility. Thus, a sustainable city should sustain its economy as much as its ecology. Climate change, global warming, and Mr Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, have led to sudden surge in attention on ecological sustainability and new-city planners in some cases are forgetting to provide the economic raison d’etre for cities. Continue reading