Cities of the Future: Technology, Sustainable Architecture and Planning

Cities have become the core of social and economic development in a continuously and rapidly urbanising world. With more than 50% of the entire population currently residing in urban areas, it is predicted that the number will continue to rise, which necessitates the potential for growth in terms of sustainable development. For the cities of the future we have to deal with major problems like global climate change, loss of biodiversity, shortage of natural resources etc., it is necessary to unify different ideas and utilise the technology and sustainable practices of architecture, urban planning and design that are available to us today, which would ensure improved habitable conditions for the humanity in the future.

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Image 1_Vision of self-sustaining cities of the future _©

Pertaining Challenges 

Evolution is the evident change in the heritable characteristics of a species over successive generations. Like how humans adapt and evolve concerning their changing environments, our surroundings have also observed surface-level changes, which are just the tip of the iceberg. As the population of the world increases, it brings its fair share of challenges along with it as well, such as overcrowding, exhaustive usage of natural resources, reducing resilience w.r.t. climate change due to overexploitation of the environment, excessive human waste and non-biodegradable substance accumulation exacerbating water and food shortage that form the basic needs for human survival, air pollution etc.

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Image 2_Environmental degradation due to urbanization _©

With issues ranging from degrading environmental conditions to over-utilisation of energy resources threatening the planet’s future, the focus is gradually shifting towards sustainability to protect the environment. With the help of state-of-the-art technology available to mankind today, the architecture and urban planning of existing and upcoming cities are paving the way to becoming environmentally responsible by ensuring optimal usage of natural resources.

Role of Architects, Planners and Designers | Cities of the Future

Using the technology available today, along with their specific skillsets and creative thought process, architects, planners, and designers can develop healthy, adaptable and vibrant communities that would last longer. By following key principles that put the needs of the people and environment ahead of anything else, these professionals’ primary function is to reconnect to the site, place, history and knowledge and establish a connection between the inhabitants and the building. It is necessary to maximise the value of the built-environment and leverage it to solve multiple problems at once.

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Image 3_Shaping the future of cities with technology _©

People’s basic requirements will also change as urbanisation and technological advancement occur. The digital era has even led to many work-from-home opportunities, which eliminate the need for workspaces and commuting, a significant change compared to the last few decades. Considering such external circumstances, we expect densely populated city centres with 24/7 programming shortly. Instead of suburbs and commuting, people would want to live in the city centres near their workplace where they can have unrestricted access to all the services. 

To achieve this level of sustainability in cities, desired density, combined with new and more efficient modes of transportation, is one of the most challenging tasks w.r.t. planning for future-proof cities, a role that can only be played by efficient and diligent professionals such as architects, planners and designers keeping key principles in mind while designing the cities such as economy, ecology, water, waste management, energy, food, transportation, liveability, preserving the cultural heritage and art of the region, etc.

How to adapt to the fast-paced developing world

Cities can play a vital role in supporting a more sustainable and inclusive future for their inhabitants, which depends on the decisive actions taken by the urban centres. To keep up with the fast-paced developing cities, a city needs to develop more than just organically. Every block, structure and neighbourhood requires extensive planning. To combat the effect of increasing population and urbanisation, it is important to delineate the significant elements that result in cities’ inorganic or haphazard planning and address them for a smoother transition into the future. Some of the features and the possible solutions for them have been listed below – 

Urban Sprawl | Cities of the Future

Urban sprawl refers to the rapid expansion and development of the geographic extent of towns and cities. They are often characterised by low-density single-use zoning residential developments, where primary transportation is dependent on personal automobiles. Suburbs can be considered the most prevalent form of urban sprawl. Such forms of urban sprawl can contribute towards economic development but not to an extent where you can overrule the negative resource usage and environmental impact.

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Image 4_Disadvantages of Urban or Suburban Sprawl _©

To tackle the non-stop outward urban sprawl, the concept of “urban hubs” can be incorporated, including localised communities consisting of mixed-use buildings. Instead of having one core city centre along with subsequent satellite towns and urban sprawl, a city could consist of a cluster of urban hubs spread out evenly. Mixed-use development could provide residential spaces and unrestricted access to workplaces, recreational activities, necessary services, etc., creating localised communities fulfilling the needs of the inhabitants and resulting in reduced carbon footprint per person.

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Image 5_Mixed-use development in urban hubs  _©

Inefficient Transportation System

The Increasing population has resulted in increased demand and usage of private motorised vehicles leading to large amounts of carbon emissions, traffic congestion, accidents, noise and air pollution. Keeping comfort and duration of the travel in mind, using private automobiles such as cars and motorcycles has observed a substantial increase compared to public transport and other means of transportation like walking, bicycle etc.

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Image 6_Traffic congestion and carbon emissions from vehicles are a major concern threatening liveability in cities _©

To make a city more sustainable, reforming its transportation system is an integral part. Improving the public transportation system, such as the introduction of electric buses, increasing the frequency of public transport, maximising coverage area and providing infrastructure for active modes of transportation like subways, overhead bridges, wider pedestrian footpaths, public bicycle sharing systems, etc., can help in establishing an efficient transportation system reducing reliance on private motorised vehicles. Promoting the usage of sustainable modes of transportation can reduce the environmental impact of vehicles and make the city experience more enjoyable in the future.

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Image 7_Green mobility – The future of transportation in sustainable cities _© WSP

Degrading biodiversity and environmental conditions

One of the biggest threats to the planet’s population is the shortage of resources. To reverse the impact of environmental degradation, the cities of the future have to become self-sufficient by preserving local ecology, making cities “greener” that rely on efficient energy systems such as wind, solar and hydro energy. Rapid urbanisation has led to large-scale deforestation, less carbon sequestration, and issues such as the urban heat island effect. 

Image 8_Disastrous environmental impact of urbanization _©
Image 8_Disastrous environmental impact of urbanization _©
Image 9_Convergence of architecture and agriculture to facilitate sustainability in cities _©
Image 9_Convergence of architecture and agriculture to facilitate sustainability in cities _©

Introducing concepts such as vertical, underground or rooftop farming and incorporating patches of green areas can ensure a much better form of protection of natural environments and biodiversity in and around the city, making the cities more self-sufficient and carbon neutral rather than just being “concrete jungles”.

Conclusion | Cities of the Future

Designing a sustainable city or rejuvenating an existing one to become more sustainable is easier said than done. Some exquisite examples of redesigned cities are Copenhagen, Singapore, etc. but reforming the cities includes its fair share of obstacles to be dealt with. One of the most significant obstacles is the financial aspect. The respective initiatives taken by the authorities to reform the cities require a large amount of capital funding that comes out of the taxpayers’ pockets, resulting in an exceptionally high cost of living. Despite the challenges that communities around the world are facing, it is essential to take profound measures and utilise the technology as well as innovative and professional minds available to us to achieve sustainability in cities to have a healthy and sustainable future not just for us but for our future generations as well. 

Image 10_Envisioning the future of cities and sustainability _©
Image 10_Envisioning the future of cities and sustainability _©

Reference List:

  • Rethinking The Future (2021). Features of the Future Sustainable City [online]. Available at: [Accessed 27 December 2022]
  • McKinsey (2015). Building the cities of the future with green districts [online]. Available at: [Accessed 27 December 2022]
  • SUSTAINABILITY for all | acciona (2019). The city of the future: Sustainable Urban Development [online]. Available at: [Accessed 28 December 2022]
  • WSSET Future Cities and Environment (2019). Future Cities: New Generation’s Visions of Sustainability Concepts and Models [online]. Available at: [Accessed 28 December 2022]
  • Easy Render (2020). Sustainable smart cities and the architecture of the future [online]. Available at: [Accessed 29 December 2022]
  • Rick Robinson | Smart Cities Dive (2012). The new architecture of Smart Cities [online]. Available at: [Accessed 29 December 2022]
  • International Organization for Standardization ISO (2021). How do we build sustainable cities of the future? [online]. Available at: [Accessed 29 December 2022]
  • New Jersey Digest (2020). Life in 2050: A Look into Sustainable Cities of the Future [online]. Available at: [Accessed 30 December 2022]
  • UN ESCAP (2015). Environment and Development | Cities for a Sustainable Future [online]. Available at: [Accessed 31 December 2022]

A dedicated spatial planner enthusiast by day and a wishful writer by night. He has a keen interest in the field of environmentally sustainable architecture and integration of sustainable transportation as an approach towards climate-responsive planning of cities. He enjoys watching Sci-fi documentaries/films and pondering over complicated concepts of life as well as the occasional sitcoms from time to time.