What should cities of the future look like?

Photo credit

Written by: Courtney Ford

With an estimated 2.5 billion people expected to be residing in urban areas by the year 2050 (United Nations, 2021), the cities of the future will need to be able to accommodate this urban growth, whilst ensuring residences an affordable, healthy and productive lifestyle. With the effects of Climate Change an imminent threat to the world and with cities contributing to more than 60% of Global Greenhouse Gas emissions (United Nations, 2021), future cities will also need to secure sustainable development. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to stay within 1.5-degree warming by the end of the century and to minimise the effects of climate change, cities need to be at net-zero carbon by 2050 (Coalitions for Urban Transition, 2019).

So what needs to change:

Cities of the future will need to rely less on fossil fuels and invest in renewable energies. The transport sector alone is responsible for 23% of carbon emissions from energy use globally, with up to 40% of this coming from urban areas (Coalition for Urban Transition, 2019). Particularly in areas of the Global South, up to 70% of toxic air pollution is attributed to cars (Coalition for Urban Transition, 2019). These toxic fumes are harming peoples health and have been linked to an increased risk of respiratory symptoms and diseases as well as an increased risk of death from cardiopulmonary causes (World Health Organisation, 2006).

Future cities need to focus on moving people around rather than cars. Affordable public transport that allows access to the whole city so that private vehicle use is discouraged should be prioritised in future city designs. Walking and cycling corridors and paths should be incorporated to encourage active transport and connect public transport routes, reducing the cities reliance on fossil fuels for transportation and improving air quality.

The 20-minute neighbourhood design from Resilient Melbourne (2020) exemplifies a potential way in which future cities could exist by integrating sustainable development and prioritising mass transit systems. The project idea is about creating neighbourhood ‘hubs’ that form a city, whereby each neighbourhood can access their daily needs within a 20-minute return walk (Resilient Melbourne, 2020). This discourages private vehicle use and links active and public transport paths to local facilities and attractions.

Figure 1: Features of a 20-minute neighbourhood. Resilient Melbourne, 2020, p.03

Adapting Cities to Climate Change by including adequate green spaces within the city is also going to be important in future as these will provide both environmental and mental health benefits. Green spaces actively cool down urban areas by mitigating the ‘heat-island’ effect in which urban areas are hotter than their surroundings (Foster, 2020). Green spaces have also been linked to having restorative mental health benefits, improving air quality and encouraging physical activity (Rojas-Rueda et al., 2019).

Figure 2: Urban Heat Island Profile. Foster, 2020.Urban areas are growing in population fast and cities of the future need to provide sustainable development that focuses on mitigating and adapting to Climate Change as well as incentivising healthy and productive lifestyles.


Coalition for Urban Transitions. (2019). Climate Emergency: Urban Opportunity. How National Governments can secure economic prosperity and avert climate catastrophe by transforming cities. https://urbantransitions.global/wp content/uploads/2019/09/ Climate-Emergency- Urban-Opportunity-report.pdf

Foster, E. (2020, July). Four approaches to reducing the Urban Heat Island Effect.
Urban Land Magazine. https://urbanland.uli.org/sustainability/four-approaches-to -reducing-the-urban-heat-island-effect/

Resilient Melbourne. (2020). Living locally: Creating Resilient 20-minute neighbourhoods in Greenfield growth areas. https://www.planning.vic.gov.au/__d ata/assets/pdf_file/0033/487509/

Rojas-Rueda, D., Nieuwenhuijsen, M., Gascon, M., Perez-Leon, D., & Mudu, P. (2019).
Green spaces and mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Lancet Planetary Health, 3(11), 469-477. https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lanplh/PIIS2542-5196

United Nations. (2021). Cities and Pollution. https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/climate-solutions/cities-pollution

World Health Organisation: Regional Office for Europe. (2006). What are the effects on health of transport-related air pollution. https://www.euro.who.int/en/data-and-evidence/evidence informed-policy-making/publications/hen-summaries-of-network-members-reports/what-are-the-effects-on-health-of-transport-related-air-pollution