Cities: Urban Futures

Urbanisation will be one of the big issues of the new millennium. According to UN estimates, half the world’s population will soon live in cities. Cities are at a cross-roads. Will they be able to capitalise on their strengths – many-layered opportunities for economic and social contact, accessible leisure and cultural facilities, dense networks – leading to an urban renaissance; or will suburbanisation intensify, becoming sprawl, because the disadvantages of city life outweigh the benefits? How can cities reconcile economic vigour with sustainability? What will be the impact of new technology? What should be the role of governance? What do cities need to do to succeed and prosper in a globally competitive world of increasingly footloose industries and individuals?

The World Today Updated 25 November 2022 Published 1 March 2000 5 minute READ

Hugh Wenban-Smith

Former Director on the transport side of the British Department of the Environment, Transports and the Regions

A sound economic base is essential for cities. Historically, their economic foundations have been diverse, ranging from heavy industry in places like Berlin to seats of government as in Vienna. The base can change: cities may find new sources of growth as previous ones wither – tourism, for example, in many of today’s older cities.

One way or another, economic strength is necessary: it attracts populations and gives them economic opportunities; it generates the income that supports a wide range of secondary activity; and it provides the tax base to fund collective infrastructure and public services. And size seems to matter. There is considerable evidence of the cumulative effects of urban growth.

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