Cities have been the source of many of humanity’s greatest triumphs as well as some of our greatest injustices. Our ability to live together in close proximity is essential to innovation—unless coronavirus has finally made remote work a substitute for doing things in person. Whether or not cities still can claim to be economically essential, they’re going to have to change dramatically to address climate change, inequality, and a shifting workforce.
Art: Quartz. Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
Growth for all cities
68%: Share of the global population that will live in cities by 2050, a growth of 2.5 billion people from 2018 numbers. Much of that growth will happen in China, India, and Nigeria.
Charting the urban-rural divide
In the US and elsewhere, the difference between urban and rural populations isn’t just geography—it’s an indication of political leanings. As more people move to cities and the loci of political and socioeconomic power becomes even more concentrated in urban centers, this division will likely become even more stark.
“At the end of day, we can all stand in the water up to our ankles on a sunny day and recognize that something is wrong here that needs to be fixed.” —Ken Russell, a Miami city commissioner
Commonly held question
Can cities survive without office workers?
As the pandemic eliminated commutes and quieted foot and street traffic around the world, the timbre of life in cities has changed. Whether workers have moved out of cities completely or are just staying home, enterprises from fast casual lunch haunts to public transit entities have suffered. Without a constellation of information-sector companies, it will be a challenge for cities to maintain their vibrancy.
- Can smart cities help residents without hurting their privacy? Smart cities rely on residents’ valuable personal data to succeed, but we haven’t found a way to protect the people who generate it.
- Will cities of the future need traffic lights? Now that we’re facing a new generation of unprecedented urban growth, the traffic light as we know it may soon become a thing of the past.
- It’s time to prepare cities for people uprooted by climate change. Making cities true havens for climate migrants will require a sweeping vision to serve current and future residents in a warming world.
- I’ve seen a future without cars, and it’s amazing. Post-pandemic, cities can begin to undo their worst mistake: giving up so much space to cars.
For hundreds of thousands of Mumbai residents, lunch is defined by the tiffin. The way these meals are delivered is an impressive feat, made necessary by the city’s crowded subways. Mumbai-wide, an order gets screwed up about once every two months, or one every 16 million deliveries. That’s an error rate comparable to the most efficient companies on earth.
The push for expanded broadband. For many, internet access is no longer a luxury—it’s necessary for participation in society. In order to expand access within cities, some activists are looking to categorize the internet as a utility, which would make it the government’s responsibility to ensure residents can connect. Meanwhile, in smaller cities where access can be difficult to come by, governments are juicing up connections by laying undersea cables around the world, though many are finding it difficult to create broadband networks of their own.