Highlights the impact of rapid urban innovation
- It's a fact that our early cities were pretty unpleasant places. There was poor sanitation, and deadly diseases were rampant. Rats thrived, crime was commonplace as little public safety existed. Prior to electricity, lighting was candles and gaslights, and with most buildings made of wood, fires were all too frequent. The Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the city's 80,000 inhabitants.
But for all these challenges, cities did offer the chance of a steady income and introduced the concept of discretionary income. It moved people away from having to work the land on farms, day and night, which had been the primary work of most people. It provided choices. Cities enabled high culture and art to prosper. Eventually as the industrial revolution progressed and expanded, cities began to function relatively well.
Formal law and order was established. Public transportation emerged. Medicine improved. Unions and new laws improved conditions. Children could go to school each day and learn to read and write instead of laboring on the land or in factories. Education led to innovation, and over time, cities and their citizens mostly prospered. But the success of cities has also led to their greatest challenge, rapid population growth.
With populations now greatly outstripping the capacity of most major cities, every aspect of city life is challenged. Megacities such as Shanghai, China and Mexico City have populations of 24 and 21 million people respectively. This has been coupled with rapid-changing economic circumstances such as the disappearance of an industry due to competition or innovation.
Detroit, Michigan known as Motown for its reliance on the motor industry suffered economic collapse as automobile competition emerged in Japan. Coal-producing cities in Britain such as Sheffield were decimated when they could not compete with cheaper coal producers in Europe. Communities that once maintained a manageable quality of life now see failing transportation systems, decaying infrastructure, insufficient affordable housing, power outages due to inadequate energy supplies, rising crime, poor social services, income inequality, and overburdened healthcare systems.
City challenges differ widely on a global basis, but we can begin to see some common themes. These include the environmental impacts of cities such as air quality and clean water. There are common issues with gridlock on the roads caused by too many gas-powered cars and inadequate public transportation systems. Government services fail to deliver because of antiquated manual systems or old technology that does not support the needs and expectations of citizens.
Cities are the primary engines of our economies today. They have created enormous wealth and in many areas function remarkably well. But over the medium to long term, together we must address the systemic issues. If generations to come are going to enjoy a good quality of life in cities, together we must innovate at a scale and a pace incomparable to anything in history.
- The challenges of rapid urban development
- Understanding the basic functions and needs of 21st century cities
- Exploring what makes a smart city smart
- How smart cities are planned and maintained
- The role of big data in driving urban innovation
- Open data and smart cities
- Smart cities and the Internet of Things