Cities at the crossroads: four scenarios for the future

Our cities could flourish after the tribulations of the pandemic – or they could fail – according to a major new report from real estate developer Landsec which spells out the urban challenges ahead

A new report by real estate investment firm Landsec has mapped out four possible future scenarios for cities, exploring how urban spaces could potentially change and develop over the next decade.

The report, ‘Shaping Successful Future Cities’, combines Landsec’s own analysis with The Future Laboratory’s strategic foresight methodology, building a picture of what a successful – and unsuccessful – city could look like over the next decade and more, and speculating on the practical and strategic implications.

In doing so, it outlines four models – from worst case through to best case scenario – and examines the key characteristics and defining features of each potential outcome.

The upheaval of the pandemic saw the role of the city both challenged and reshaped, with policymakers still wrestling with how to restore certain cities to health and unlock the potential of others.

The report, which aims to spark debate and act as a guide for those shaping the built environment, underlines the critical importance of creating people-centric spaces, to allow for thriving communities, with meaningful and sustained investment in the right infrastructure. The four scenarios modelled are:

The problematic future – Exhausting and depleting: this ‘worst case scenario’ depicts a future in which urban planning and construction have failed entirely to address environmental concerns and social inequality.

The probable future – Adaptive and evolving: the ‘most likely scenario’ is where cities evolve by retrofitting existing infrastructure, and social resilience becomes as important as physical resilience.

The possible future – Collective and vitalising: a city designed for society holistically, using data and digitisation to enhance quality of life for all residents, and focused on equitability, health and safety.

The prosperous future – Green and flourishing: this ‘best case scenario’ sees people flourish alongside the environment. The positive elements of urban life can thrive and the returns from eco-system restoration are clear, but this vision is contingent on understanding the ways in which low-impact materials and building techniques affect the environment.

Six urban principles

Alongside the four scenarios, the report sets out six principles of urbanisation – opportunities designed to lead to probable or possible cities of the future – to serve as a guide and inspiration. Tested by Landsec with a panel of experts, the principles, which are listed in order of urgency, are as follows:

Climate prepared: Protects people against man-made and natural disasters, while ensuring the built environment is greener, more efficient, and becomes a net generator of energy and other crucial resources.

Resilience: Copes with the fast-paced changes and external shocks; and provides economic viability and an attractive and reliable place for people to live. Flexible, adaptable and evolving.

Desirable: Raises the standards for quality of life to attract and retain residents, occupiers and investment. It offers a holistic set of features, healthy environments, vibrant public life and reliable services.

Responsive: Uses the best of human skills and emerging technology to make the most of spaces, mobility and wellbeing, while also prioritising connectivity to improve quality of life.

Equitable: Houses diverse groups of people and businesses who co-exist harmoniously and ensures fair and equal access to amenities, employment, services, business, cultures and nature.

Polycentric: Rather than the traditional model where a city develops outward from a single economic middle, this approach promotes a series of smaller centres that are accessible, walkable and convenient.

In conclusion, the report argues that cities and neighbourhoods that can implement the above principles will have the best chance of achieving both a “positive and possible” future.

“The future remains uncertain and unpredictable,” it reflects, “but by exploring potential scenarios – from the dystopian to the hopeful – the aim of this white paper is to spark debate and also act as a guide for those shaping the built environment.”

Commenting on the insights contained in the report, Landsec chief executive Mark Allan says: ‘We’re at a crossroads when it comes to the future of our cities… Put simply, we need to act now – starting with urgently needed policy reform – to achieve a more prosperous and positive future for all. To deliver more jobs, more homes and more growth, we must bring people, business and cities together.’

Read Landsec’s ‘Shaping Successful Future Cities’ report in full here.

Andrew Sansom is editorial director of SALUS Global Knowledge Exchange. Salus is a content partner of WORKTECH Academy.
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