The interconnected city:
Imagining our urban lives in 2050

By the year 2050, we will be interconnected with our planet, our communities, and our resources. Today though, it feels like an ambitious goal to change how we live and how we design our urban environments. But, this new city is possible, and it all starts with a vision.

Think of this vision as a compass, not a map. We believe that providing a tangible and positive image of what a city could look like in the future can bring different groups together to build the right conditions and drive the actions to achieve it.
 
During a global pandemic, now more than ever, we are feeling the consequences of a flawed global economy characterized by the destruction and exploitation of nature, overuse of our global commons, wealth and income inequality, fragile supply chains, and governance failures. This has contributed to a fundamental breakdown in how we connect to each other, and how we connect to the natural ecosystems that we depend on. Global urbanization trends show that cities will not only house more humans, but they will also require more land, resources, and energy. Cities are powerfully positioned to break this pattern of uncoordinated, unregulated, and extractive linear economies that put us in this mess. They are high-impact ‘leverage points.’ Transforming the way we live in cities has the potential to not only improve the quality of life of the majority of the planet's (future) urban population, but will also help bring our global economy within planetary boundaries. 

At Metabolic, we have reimagined futures with sustainability leaders, governments, urban designers, titans in the construction sector, community members rooted in their neighborhoods, and experts on critical urban systems, including food, energy, and water. Building on our experiences working in 50 cities around the world, we have created this vision of what our world will look like in 30 years. 

Now, let’s explore our own interconnected urban future.

Cities occupy just 3% of the earth’s land surface, but are home to more than half of the world’s population. They are engines of the global economy, but many are trapped in an operating system that harms the health of people, other species, and the planet.
Today, in 2050, our relationship with our ecosystems has drastically changed. By considering what other species need in order to thrive, we have created a more robust, nature-inclusive ecosystem for all humans, plants, and animals.
Neighborhoods that were once hidden beneath asphalt, including the Central Business Districts, have transformed into living, flourishing environments where nature is highly visible. Healthy habitats support native plants and species, in turn improving resilience, happiness, and public health for everyone.
Our city is full of collaborative, connected communities, supported by our local governments. Community centers act as the beating heart in each neighborhood where people of all ages and backgrounds meet, schools encourage children to connect with their surroundings, and unused office buildings have been retrofitted into inclusive housing. A more accessible public transit system and protected cycling and walking paths opened up car-free streets for everyone to share.
Our cities are no longer massive resource drains fueled by extensive supply chains. Resources are much more local — down to the level of each individual building.

Buildings themselves are made of both biobased and reused materials mined from other construction sites. Solar panels and other newly developed renewable technologies power our cities through local smart grids. We collect rainwater and new infrastructure cleans our used water, so that drinking water is protected; it certainly isn’t used for flushing toilets. Our food is grown through regenerative farming within the city and on its outskirts, staying as local as we can.

We have imagined a new urban future: A future that connects the city to its surroundings and its resources, humans to wilderness and other species, and people to other people within their communities. A future in which we are interconnected.
Cities occupy just 3% of the earth’s land surface, but are home to more than half of the world’s population. They are engines of the global economy, but many are trapped in an operating system that harms the health of people, other species, and the planet.
Today, in 2050, our relationship with our ecosystems has drastically changed. By considering what other species need in order to thrive, we have created a more robust, nature-inclusive ecosystem for all humans, plants, and animals.
Neighborhoods that were once hidden beneath asphalt, including the Central Business Districts, have transformed into living, flourishing environments where nature is highly visible. Healthy habitats support native plants and species, in turn improving resilience, happiness, and public health for everyone.
Our city is full of collaborative, connected communities, supported by our local governments. Community centers act as the beating heart in each neighborhood where people of all ages and backgrounds meet, schools encourage children to connect with their surroundings, and unused office buildings have been retrofitted into inclusive housing. A more accessible public transit system and protected cycling and walking paths opened up car-free streets for everyone to share.
Our cities are no longer massive resource drains fueled by extensive supply chains. Resources are much more local — down to the level of each individual building.
Buildings themselves are made of both biobased and reused materials mined from other construction sites. Solar panels and other newly developed renewable technologies power our cities through local smart grids. We collect rainwater and new infrastructure cleans our used water, so that drinking water is protected; it certainly isn’t used for flushing toilets. Our food is grown through regenerative farming within the city and on its outskirts, staying as local as we can.
We have imagined a new urban future:
A future that connects the city to its surroundings and its resources, humans to wilderness and other species, and people to other people within their communities. A future in which we are interconnected.

Shifting the focus to communities, our relationship with nature and resources.

We explore how our future city is based on interconnections with nature, communities, and resources in three chapters. Read more about these connections in the following chapters, or dive into our full vision by downloading the PDF.

Our vision is one of many

Our vision is not a prediction nor a prescription, but instead a conversation starter to inspire further collaborative thinking. It is also not the first attempt. We are inspired by many sources and thinkers and build on existing vision and theories ranging from the 15-minute city to Kate Raworth’s doughnut city, plus many more.

Pathways forward

As 2021 draws to a close, it is critical that we get moving. Given their massive ecological footprint and impact on human wellbeing, cities must operate within planetary boundaries. German geographer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt already realized this in the 1800s when he wrote about the long-term effects of humankind’s activities on the environment. He called out deforestation, wasteful irrigation, and, perhaps most prophetically, the ‘great masses of steam and gas’ produced in industrial centers.

With the disappointing commitments from COP26 still fresh in our minds, it becomes even more urgent that we do whatever it takes to transition our global economy to a fundamentally sustainable state. But, aligning on this "what" is the next crucial step. Knowing that the current urban model benefits few and in fact contributes to widespread harm, and that cities will continue to grow, systemic change is vital and imperative.

You might also wonder how it fits your city. Maybe it doesn’t. Agreeing on a single universal vision for cities is impossible; every city context is different, as are the needs of its people and other species. We know that, and we encourage urban residents around the world to think about what will work for them. That is exactly what we hope to do with this vision. We invite you to build on this vision, take elements from it, or propose new visions. We hope our ideas ignite conversation and most importantly, action.

Did you enjoy our vision?
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Learn more about our work with cities and regions.
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Tamara Streefland
LEAD URBAN SYSTEMS
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