De-globalization and the rise of regional blocs mean that megapolises need to change.
The blows delivered by the Trump administration to the free market and multilateralism are laying the open society to rest and ringing in the era of de-globalization. But the fragmentation of economic space into regional blocs does not call into question the emergence of global cities. Fifteen metropolises on the planet have more than 20 million inhabitants, of which only two – Tokyo and New York – belong to the developed world. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in these cities; some of them, like Greater Beijing could comprise 110 million people. The size of these conurbations means that they have to be rethought in order to face the upheavals of the 21st century: aging populations, waves of migration, universal capitalism, a knowledge-based economy, ecological changes and the rise of security risks.
It is the intelligent city that provides the response to these changes. It involves six major sectors. The economy, with growth that is inclusive and respectful of the environment. Soft mobility, that integrates efficient, accessible, affordable, safe and environmentally-friendly transport, notably by means of autonomous shuttles that optimize the urban space – including rivers, as in the Sea Bubbles project. Protection of the environment – a vital area since cities generate 80% of greenhouse gas emissions over 2% of the earth’s surface – through waste recovery and recycling as well as energy production and increased energy efficiency. The containment of urban sprawl, by means of buildings with positive energy and diversity of activities. Security, by risk prevention – in terms of attacks on people and assets, natural disasters and cyber-attacks –, by coordinating public and private forces, and by organisational and human resilience. Finally, governance, by treating the citizen not just as a simple consumer of services, but as a partner in development, and by putting information at the disposal of citizens that will allow them to keep a check on the actions of establishment decision-makers.
No one model for the intelligent city exists. Each city must invent its own model to suit its history, its population and its economic and social structures. The simplest solution is to build new cities. In South Korea this year, Songdo will be completing buildings with a high environmental quality as well as roads and facilities equipped with sensors to optimize their use and to anticipate and adjust traffic and energy consumption. China has a similar project for Shenzhen, which will serve as a pilot in the priority issue of the fight against pollution. In the USA, Babcock Ranch in Florida, built on the edge of a 74,000 acre nature reserve, will be the first green city of 2017.
However, the main challenge remains the transformation of the mega-cities. Hong Kong and Singapore are experimenting with large numbers of 50-metre high artificial trees stuffed with sensors which control lighting and rainwater recovery. New York and London are trying hard to catch up. Montreal is at the cutting edge when it comes to citizen participation, with an electronic suggestions box. Hamburg has reworked its port management. Rio and Lagos are inventing the emerging intelligent city.
The revolution has begun. It will contribute to redesigning the global space and triggering a new hierarchy among nations. With the exception of London, Europe is lagging behind, and this must be made up at all costs. This is particularly true of Paris – which has been marginalized – even though France has considerable advantages in terms of architects, urban planners, world class environmentalists, transport and energy. Brexit is a unique opportunity to put Paris back in the ranking of global cities by re-connecting it with modernity and innovation.
The intelligent city must figure on the list of long-term public strategies, because it raises certain questions. The first is who is to steer it – at the moment a matter of dispute between elected officials and market players. The second derives from the polarization caused by the new technologies, i.e. by growing inequalities in intelligent cities and between intelligent cities and surrounding areas. The third touches on the security of these conurbations, which are perrfect – and particularly vulnerable – targets because of the concentration of both population and resources, and their dependence on technology. The final challenge is a human one, for there can be no intelligent city without intelligent citizens. This presupposes their being educated in freedom and responsibility. The warning issued by Pericles to the Athenians is still relevant today for the citizens of intelligent cities of the 21st century: “It is men and not stones that are the best ramparts for cities.”
(Column published in Le Point, 30th March 2017)