21st Century Gardens

1847-5787-imageAs I am preparing for the Smart City Expo World Congress which will take place in Barcelona next week, I just want to recall this Edge Conversation with Mark Pagel, in which he explains why cities are going to be the true gardens of the 21st century:

Up until 10,000 years ago there were no permanent settlements and all human groups lived by hunting and gathering. Then agriculture was discovered and everything changed. Now a small number of people could supply food for the rest and the first cities arose. Every since that time there has been a steady movement of people out of our original arcadia and into cities, such that now over half the world lives in them. But why given that cities have historically been targets of attack and places of crime and where diseases fester and spread? The answer is that cities have acted as gardens of our prosperity, creativity and innovations and their continued existence is vital to fitting the projected 9 billion people onto this planet. Surprisingly, they are the new ‘green centres’ of the world. (Mark Pagel, “Cities as Gardens”, Edge Conversations)

Throughout our history, cities have acted as gardens for innovation and prosperity for three relatively well documented reasons:

  • Cities are more efficient than groups of people living in the countryside. A city the size of London has fewer roads per capita than a city the size of Manchester or Oxford. It has fewer sewers per capita. It uses less heat per capita. It has fewer cables per capita.

    Urban density and Energy consumption
    Urban density and transport-related energy consumption, Newman et Kenworthy, 1989
  • Cities have been historically magnets for creative, innovative people, entrepreneurs and wealth creators. As cities increase in size, the number of innovations increases faster than population growth. Wages and standard of living rises, accordingly, faster than population.
  • Cities have to continually reinvent themselves to avoid social and physical collapse. They have to reset their carrying capacity to be able to accommodate the increasing density of people. Successful Cities throughout history have been very, very good at that.

If we want to save our planet and be able to survive our growth into the 21st century and, cities will have to act as the true gardens of the 21st century.


Featured Image:  The new Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bicycle path is made of thousands glowing stones which charge at daytime and give light at night. Inspired by Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” it combines innovation with cultural heritage in Nuenen NL, the place where Van Gogh lived in 1883. This is the second concept of Smart Highway, the interactive and sustainable roads of today, by Designer Daan Roosegaarde

One comment

  1. […] to the beginning of the 20th century, densities were too high. Today, it is generally accepted that average densities in the great majority of U.S. cities are too low to be sustainable. But how dense can a city become? Is it possible an urban “black […]

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