College Talk: The new face of the city
image by Leonid Laitskyi on Flickr

12.01.2017 // 10 – 11:30 AM At FreedomLab Campus

Free of entrance. Please register here.

Due to developments such as growth of businesses, population and tourism the pressure on cities has been increasing rapidly in recent years. These trends impact a variety of domains, such as crowdedness, traffic, housing and the environment. While digital platforms have begun to transform urban space, ‘the smart city’ has not lived up to expectations. Following the global comparative research of Alexander van Wijnen (Dasym and FreedomLab Future Studies) on urban renewal, we invite you to join us for an interactive session to discuss the implications of urban renewal for our local realities.

In this short article, Alexander introduces the topic, his research and the findings.

Since the turn of the last century, pressure on cities has been increasing globally. Meanwhile, digital platforms are transforming urban spaces. Underlying macro-developments have gradually triggered immense growth in urban population and urban tourism. For example, the rise of the service sector and the globalization of the world economy attracts new residents, while airline deregulation and increased airport connectivity boosts tourism.

For different demographic groups, large cities have become the most attractive location to settle. For example, the highly educated and millennials are attracted to the job opportunities and social life of large cities, while increased female participation in the labor market has incentivized families to move to cities. In the case of migrants, domestic migrants in the developing world are often forced to move to cities, while many others opt to move to cities in the developed world. Meanwhile, advantages to agglomeration have increasingly incentivized businesses in the modern economy to move to cities, which also increases cities’ force of attraction to new residents.

Alexander van Wijnen, associate strategist at Dasym and FreedomLab:

‘Urban growth seems unstoppable. This unprecedented growth of population, tourism and businesses has a profound impact on cities.’

This unprecedented growth of population, tourism and businesses has a profound impact on cities. Urban growth seems unstoppable. Cities worldwide are sprawling at 2% a year, as urban expansion outpaces the growth of population density. Moreover, cities are fast becoming more powerful economic centers than nations. Indeed, many large cities generate a disproportionately high share of GDP in relation to their share of the national population. Furthermore, digital platforms such as Uber, Deliveroo and AirBnB are transforming urban spaces, changing the way we move around, eat and stay in cities. Meanwhile, public and private investment is upgrading the infrastructure of cities with increasingly sophisticated technologies, while some cities are already preparing for a self-driving future. Cities continue to strive to become centers of innovation. Furthermore, as our own relation with technology changes, our very homes are being transformed.

But the return to the city movement also has its downsides. While large cities gain economic strength, many smaller cities suffer from a brain drain as they lose skilled workers. Even the economic strength of large cities has downsides, as soaring housing prices crowd out lower-income groups, while air pollution increasingly threatens the liveability of cities. Some city streets are getting crowded at an alarming rate, while in other cities traffic clogs up the central nervous system of the city. In many cities, concerns over these issues gain ever more attention, as the underlying developments have accelerated in recent years. As a result, cities apply increasingly radical measures to tackle challenges such as excessive traffic and mass tourism.

The vision of a smart city drives cities to prepare for the future. Hitherto, smart city investment has been focused on energy savings and smart infrastructure, while effective measures for urgent challenges such as traffic and other manifestations of crowdedness are still rare. Indeed, as of yet, a true smart city has not come to pass. But the city-state of Singapore does resemble a model-city of the future. Radical measures to tackle fundamental challenges are combined with consulting the concerns of citizens over privacy-invading measures. The Singaporean government has adopted a mentality, which might be a prerequisite to tackle urban challenges in the face of unprecedented urban growth.