By Robert Hickson 01/11/2017

Metropolis, the Jetsons, Blade Runner. Imagining cities of the future is a popular past-time. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has just announced his vision of the mega-city of the future – Neom. With web site. And the price tag too (half a trillion dollars in case you missed it).



This struck me as more ego that eco. A “continued domination of nature”, to borrow from architect Anthony Thistleton. Technologies used to transform the environment. Limitless rather than limited.

A totally different approach is Arcosanti in Arizona’s Sonoran desert. A “city” in the making for the last half century. Built to be “part of the landscape, not in spite of it.” It comes across as a desiccated Hobbiton. But it is about transforming consciousness of what sustainability really is.

Meanwhile, Sidewalk Labs (part of the Alphabet metaverse) is attempting to build a mini-city from the “internet up” in Toronto. Though it sounds less like a technopolis and more about repackaging existing urban ideas in a more tech-efficient way (while trying to avoid the messy politics and incumbent resident views of improving existing urban areas).

Neom and Arcosanti seem to be at the unrealistic extremes of the spectrum of future urban environments. But we can be informed by both, and approaches like Sidewalk Labs.

As I noted previously, it isn’t up to super wealthy rulers, visionary architects or technology companies to dictate how we live. Nor is it about starting urban centres from scratch.

Adapting existing cities will be more common (and necessary). Inspiration can come from these urban visions. But we need to ensure that we combine vision with pragmatism. And not forget to place at the core both the good of the communities that live in them, and the environment too.


Update 5 Nov: RNZ’s Insight programme has looked at waterproofing cities in the face of a changing climate. It covers how NZ is adopting some of the overseas approaches that I flagged in my Smarter, spongier cities post.


Featured Image: by Michael Baird on Unsplash