Sustainable cities in the future: fact or myth?

"My positive vision for a green, clean London which can lead the world"- Norman Foster (Evening Standard, 2018)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Norman Foster, whom I consider one of the most innovative architects of these days. This time we were not there to learn specifically about architecture but about cities and the need to make them more sustainable.

According to the United Nations Development Program (1966), more than half of the world’s population now live in urban areas. By the year 2050, this figure will reach 70%, giving rise to megacities of over 10 million inhabitants (UNDP, 2018). With this migration, the basic needs of the people will become an ever-increasing problem with consequences such as overpopulation, excessive consumption, pollution and depletion of resources.

In 1994, the Aalborg Charter for sustainable cities and towns (Denmark) is an initiative created to find solutions and rethink the urban landscape of the city (, 2018). But, what makes a city sustainable? How will cities repurpose and transform their resources to accommodate so many people?

Making public resources accessible to the community is one of the strategies implemented by most of the governments nowadays: guaranteeing public transport, proper education system, safe healthcare centers, garbage collection services, safety air quality and affordable housing. As population changes within cities, so does the need of adapting these services to the people’s need. One example of a city that is leading the Urban Transportation is Bogota, Colombia, with its ultra-efficient system: TransMilenio. It covers most parts of the city, through a fast channel only used by buses being able to reach 4.9 million habitants (, 2018).

Transmilenio (, 2018).

However, this strategy must go hand in hand with the integration of public spaces for the enjoyment of people; renovating and restoring parks, squares, urban spaces and changing streets for more pedestrian areas for people to live the city. Concepts like vertical gardens and the creation of large ‘green’ spaces in the middle of the cities will be the center for government investment, in order to help reduce CO2 emissions. In addition, the search for other means of transport more efficient and less damaging to the environment have thrived the incentive of using bicycles and different approaches of pedestrianisation.

The Garde Bridge (Independent, 2018)

The Garden Bridge project proposed few years ago is a good example of what the vision of the futuristic cities will be like. It is a pedestrian bridge that will be located between Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges. Different from any other bridge, The Garden would feature more than 300 trees, plants and climbers in its 30 meters across and 366 meters long to promote the environment conservation (Independent, 2018). This project has been scrapped in August 2017 due the lack of funds- or maybe, because of the lack of interest of Londoners towards environment conservation and using public funds for this type of projects.

Ethical consumption has been one of the trending topics and another element of sustainable cities; over-consumption the reason of depletion of natural resources. In this case, the city of San Francisco, USA, has won the award of Waste Management for its ‘zero waste’ program, which now deals with 80% of all trash diverted from landfills (Medium, 2018). Another example, which is been followed by the UK recently is the recycling strategy in Norway for plastic bottles. Hence, deposit-return machines are located mostly at supermarkets and food shops of the country, making easier for consumers to take back their used bottles. A tax is charged to the user when buying the product and giving it back once it is returned to these machines called panteordning. Countries like Germany, Croatia, Estonia, Sweden and Finland have already introduced the bottle deposit-return schemes (HuffPost UK, 2018).

Deposit-Return Machines (HuffPost UK, 2018)

All these strategies, collectively, lead to a more sustainable city while preparing us for the ‘city of the future’: a city with a futuristic design that seems to have come out of a fiction movie. Antismog towers with de-polluting properties, photosynthesis towers covered in algae, vertical farming, underground life to provide housing and implemented technology to designed carbon neutral and zero waste environments are some characteristics proposed by architects in their futuristic-looking cities planned.

The Plan Paris Smart City 2050 (CALLEBAUT, 2018) has all the elements mentioned above, giving rise to a city very different from the one we visit today, characterized by the most notable examples of architecture: from gothic style to the Art Deco and Postmodern architecture. A city whose height of its buildings allows the Eiffel Tower to be the focus of attention visible from any point, thus maintaining an order within the urbanism of the city. This futuristic proposal of what this city will be in 30 years from now, seems to propose the opposite of what this city is today.

Plan Paris Smart City 2050 (CALLEBAUT, 2018)

So, are we ready for this?


Anon, (2018). [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2018]. [Accessed 6 May 2018].

Anon, (2018). [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2018]. [Accessed 6 May 2018]. (2018). Lord Norman Foster on the future of cities. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2018].

CALLEBAUT, D. (2018). Vincent Callebaut. [online] Vincent Callebaut Architectures. Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2018].

Cockburn, H. (2018). Garden Bridge: how the vision came crashing down. [online] The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2018].

HuffPost UK. (2018). Norway Has Perfected Plastic Recycling, Here's What The UK Can Learn From Them. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 May 2018].

Medium. (2018). San Francisco’s Race to Zero Waste Has One Last Major Hurdle. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2018]. (2018). European Sustainable Cities Platform | The Aalborg Charter. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 May 2018]. (2018). Inicio | Transmilenio. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 May 2018].

UNDP. (2018). UNDP - United Nations Development Programme. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2018].

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