“The city or habitat has always responded to the purpose of human growth and repurposed themselves to better align with their needs. So in order to visualize the future cities we need to understand changing needs or purposes or human beings and their behavior,” writes Nimesh Pilla.
Cities are the stage upon which the story of evolution of human civilization has played out since time immemorial. Cities are shaped by the ethos and needs of the community or civilization that built them. And almost simultaneously, cities also shape the behavior of its dwellers that are to be a part of that civilization. As the human civilization evolved, so did its habitat, which reciprocated and adapted to the socio-cultural demands of that time and age. They did so not only in the way they functioned but also in the way they looked and behaved.
The evolution of human civilization has been about people coming together to achieve common goals – to hunt, to cultivate, to defend, to trade, to prosper, to relax and to be entertained. They settled in the location best suited for their need. They produced, gathered and traded; developed and advanced commerce, one business attracting the other and soon, the civilization grew from a cluster to village to a town to a city to a metropolis. Each one had a cause at the core of their origin and they developed organically as a response to a need.
If the need of a society was to improve the efficiency of business, the focus was automatically on building infrastructure and become economic hubs. If the need was to provide knowledge to the society, the focus was on the social and natural environment that facilitated a freedom of thought and spirit of scholarship to go on to become campus towns. If the need was to trade, the focus was on providing security. If need was an industry, connectivity became a core element of attention. For governance, the elements of authority and shared values were emphasized.
Each city is different from the other and yet they share similar traits based on their functional purpose. Cities have always responded to socio-cultural needs of people and society at large. In modern days cities are being re-imagined and are creating new ways of interaction and behaviour. For example the Abu Dhabi energy corporation is developing the city of Masdar, it is aimed to reposition the region’s interest and perception from oil to energy. Stated to be the worlds first zero-carbon city, it will be home to institutes and individuals focusing on energy research.Masdar is responding to the need for environmental sustenance by presenting itself as a testing ground for the future of energy. Songdo, in Korea is another example of a smart, connected city where physical communities becomes a smart connected community where residents have flexibility and access to home, work and school through technology. Songdo is built with the imagination that technology will simplify our life and converge space and time. It also exemplifies the emergence of technology partners (like CISCO in the case of Songdo) as architects of modern cities and civilizations. Curitiba in Brazil is another example of a city that is famous among urban planners for its innovation and rational development, with a reputation for being highly livable and very sustainable. More importantlyit has created a mechanism to give incentives to citizens that allows people to exchange trash for transit tokens or fresh produce, hence reducing litter and waste in even some of the poorer sections of Curitiba.
Today as human civilization is evolving at a faster pace and many influences are shaping the evolution for human kind, it becomes important for us to think about the cities of our future.
So in order to visualize the future cities we need to understand changing needs or purposes or human beings and their behavior. It is not just the infrastructure that makes a city, but its people, their needs, their professions and their culture that forms communities and cities.
As urbanization and trends of reverse migration seem to co-exist in India our cityscapes seem to be changing. What could perhaps be the socio-economic need around which modern Indian cities can be conceptualized? Women as a demographic group in India is playing a far more active and involved role in social, family, business and economics than they have ever been in the history of our civilization. India’s 49% of population is now gearing up and taking on more and more professional roles, earning more, consuming more and therefore playing a far more decisive role within families, communities, societies and cities. How will India’s new cities be able to catalyze this change, can cities be built keeping in mind the unique needs of the women workforce (for example, stronger public transport networks, easier access to transport, better security and lights, more space for rearing children, playschools et al)? We will need more women-friendly cities, cities that give women the option to live life at their terms, at their pace without compromising on the infrastructure or opportunities. Perhaps, India will also need cities that create modern forms of local self governance or cities purposed and build towards specific needs such as entertainment, health-care or education. The possibilities are huge and just as diverse as the growing milieu of thoughts, ideas and opportunities that India is today.