For the first time in history, there are more people living in urban areas than there are in rural areas, which by 2030, are expected to support almost 5 billion people. Cities are swelling to unprecedented sizes. But as Edward Glaeser now famously argues in Triumph of the City, cities also represent our best hope in solving the environmental challenges we collective face, in elevating people from poverty, and in creating meaningful economic development through the power of agglomeration. Critical will be our ability to recognize the factors that lead to urban success, which changes every day as our societies develop and technology improves.
Because of the growing importance of cities, 2013 will play host to a vast number of city-building mega projects that will redefine how we shape the places we live in, and their outcomes will set the stage for how and (why) we build cities for the future.
Below is a list of the nine city-building projects to watch in 2013 and beyond.
9 – Chengdu Great City, China
Just outside the city of Chengdu, China and designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, the Chengdu “Great City” will cover just 1.3 square kilometres but will be home to around 80,000 inhabitants. Because of its small size, residents will be able to walk from one side of the city to the other in just 15 minutes. Personal automobiles will not operate within the city, relying entirely on transit and walking or cycling to move around. Energy consumption is anticipated to be significantly lower than what would be expected for urban areas with a similar population; 48% less energy, 58% less water, 60% less carbon dioxide and 89% less waste.
The Chengdu Great City started construction in the fall of 2012, and is expected to be completed by 2021. If successful, China aims to replicate the success across the country on the outskirts of its burgeoning cities.
8 - Konza Technology City, Kenya
Konza is planned for Kenya in the heart of Africa just outside Nairobi, the largest city in East Africa. Konza’s goal is to stimulate economic development not only in Kenya but the region as a whole. Konza emphasizes a development program with the aim of bringing high value employment primarily in the information technology sector that the planners hope will stimulate growth and bring the country into the competitive global knowledge economy.
The city itself is planned on 5,000 acres, and will accommodate 185,000 residents. A new university will also provide education fro 1,500 students. A 240 acre central business district will provide local jobs and shopping opportunities. The technology industries planned for the city will eventually provide up to 82,000 jobs. A high speed rail link will connect directly to the Nairobi international airport.
The first phase of the project begins construction in January of 2013, with full build out of the city expected by 2033.
7 – Oyala, Equatorial Guinea
A small country on the west coast of Africa, Equatorial Guinea is home to just under 700,000 inhabitants, 155,000 of which reside in the country’s current capital, Malabo. Malabo sits on an island, susceptible to sea-based attack from the country’s myriad of rebel groups who have (allegedly) been trying to overthrow the president, Teodoro Obiang, since his reign began in 1979. In 2004, a failed coup was supposedly aided by outside international forces. The coup, and President Obiang’s unrelenting political paranoia, has led his government to choose to wholly abandon Malabo in favour of a new inland capital, Oyala (or Djibloho), to be constructed entirely from scratch in a remote forested region.
The new city is planned to house 160,000 people across 20,000 acres. Luxury facilities planned for the new city, in a country who’s population suffers from widespread poverty, include a zoo, a botanical garden, sports parks, and a golf course. Not much else is known in terms of how Oyala’s economy will be developed, or why people will choose to locate here other than for government and administrative purposes.
Purpose-built cities are just that, built for a purpose, And while it seems there has been a legitimate effort to design Oyala as a modern city that responds to the needs of future inhabitants, its real function is to serve the needs of President Obiang, who is now the longest serving non-royal head of state. Oyola’s physical isolation represents the political detachment of the country’s government from its people, and its completion will certainly prove an interesting test of how well a city can be created without true design for its hypothetical future inhabitants.
Construction is underway, and the entire city is planned to be complete by 2020.
6 – Tor Bella Monaca, Italy
The New Urbanism movement has received its share of criticism over its lifetime. The urban design philosophy, which argues for traditional town planning ideals and pre-automobile architectural forms, has nonetheless shaped the development of urban areas across the globe. Most notable of these has been Poundbury, built outside the town of Dorchester in southwest UK at the behest of Prince Charles himself, and designed by one of New Urbanism’s founder and leading theorists Leon Krier. Love or hate him, Krier has had a remarkably successful career built upon his ability to conceptualize traditional urban form in the modern context and on his ability to so eloquently communicate his rationale.
Krier is now undertaking his most ambitious project yet, and will put to the test the principles of New Urbanism and how successful its inception can be. Tor Bella Monaca, in the suburbs of Rome, has been designed to replace a social housing complex with a new community housing 40,000 residents. Buildings will be around four stories tall, and streets will be free of cars to allow residents and visitors full experience the pedestrian utopia Krier is attempting to create. Civic buildings will frame public squares, and streets will zig-zag organically through dense blocks, true to Krier’s urban ideal. How the future inhabitants will respond to it will certainly be of interest for those on both sides of the New Urbanism debate.
Construction is underway, and the first blocks are expected to be complete in 2014.