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The changing cityscape

The Networked Society is making cities change in new ways

People are moving from the countryside to cities all over the world.

In the Networked Society City Index, we say:

“Today more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and by 2030 the proportion is expected to top 60 percent. There is a steady stream of people moving from the countryside to the city every day. Urban population increases by more than 5 million every month. Today more than 20 cities in the world are classed as megacities, cities with more than 10 million inhabitants. Tokyo, Mumbai and Mexico City are all examples. By 2020, the world will have at least eight more megacities, with half of all future megacities located in the developing countries of the world.”

Cities are historically founded and grow on particular sites because of various reasons such as habitat, trading, resources, defensive position or administrative requirements.

Today, people are moving from the countryside to cities to find jobs, education, better living conditions and greater opportunities. Large concentrations of people make life more dynamic, with a rich cultural life and more possibilities to choose an individual lifestyle. But the city often also brings congestion, pollution, loneliness, security issues and segregation.

Accommodation, administration, construction materials and technologies, religion, transport, industry/business, media and defense are all areas that determine the city plan. Examples from the past illustrate how the blueprints for cities have evolved. Before the invention of artillery, the city wall was there to protect the city. But the arrival of artillery meant the city wall was too weak to protect its inhabitants, so cities built bastions. When long-range artillery was introduced, and then airplanes, these made traditional defense systems for the city obsolete and the plans changed again. The introduction of the railway not only brought competition for the horse and carriage as a means of transportation but more importantly connected cities, regions and countries, spurring economic expansion. The list of historical examples is a long one. For more on the topic, I can recommend the book Form and Meaning: The Role of Creativity in Societal Patterns by János Kleineisel.

We are now standing on the brink of a Networked Society where broadband, mobility and the cloud are fundamental forms of infrastructure. The question is how this shift will change city plans and everyday living conditions as well as giving people in the countryside the same opportunities as people in the cities.

To address the needs of the city dweller and city challenges such as transportation and environmental issues, we need solutions for sustainable lifestyles: local job hubs, telecommuting, smart public and private transport systems, e-education and so forth. Such solutions will change the city plans and the type of buildings being built. Any space could potentially become a workplace or a classroom, so we will see new patterns emerging in how people move around within cities. Ultimately you might not have to live in the city where you have to work or study.

Written by Mikael Eriksson Björling

Mikael is an Ericsson Networked Society Evangelist and Director at the Networked Society Lab. His specialty is in understanding how new consumer behavior, emerging technologies and industry logics are shaping the future society, and he believes that we have great opportunities right now to shape a better world. Mikael joined Ericsson in 1998 and is based in Stockholm. You can follow him on Twitter at: @mikaeleb

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