MY professors at the Harvard Graduate School of Design used to tell us, “The 21st century will be a Re-century: Re-imagine, re-plan, re-design, re-use, re-duce, recycle, and redevelop toward an urban renaissance.” Today, I think we are steadily getting there.
According to a research conducted by the IESE Business School, around 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. In the same study, cities are shown to generate 80 percent of wealth worldwide. Yet, despite this fact, cities are facing big economic, demographic, social and environmental challenges. As architects and urban planners, it is our duty to plan and design the natural and built environment to improve people’s quality of life. It will be helpful for us to learn from some of the best cities around the world. In the list of the top 10 cities of the world, we see cities that rank the highest in terms of livability, smart city design, green urbanism, resilience, urban mobility, safety, urban gateway and tourism.
According to The Economist’s Global Liveability Index 2018, political and social stability, access to healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure indicate better living conditions in a city. Vienna topped the rankings, followed by Melbourne, Osaka, Calgary and Sydney at fifth place. Aside from Vienna’s interesting cultural scene, green and walkable city center, and iconic cafés, the city administers remarkable and efficient social housing, public transport and healthcare systems.
Smart city design is the solution chosen by several top cities to the environmental challenges of the 21st century. In New York, the smartest city, according to the IESE Cities in Motion Index, smart city systems are addressing urban issues like street lighting efficiency, water quality and conservation, waste management, and air quality. For example, The Big Belly in New York City is an automated trash can that runs on solar power and is equipped with wireless sensors that detect trash levels and send information to a system that schedules trash collection. It also includes a trash compactor that allows the bin to hold five times more trash than the regular trash can. Retrofitted LED lights, automated meter reading (AMR) units that track water usage, and digitized air monitoring systems all help the city to save energy and reduce carbon emissions. Monitoring is a common denominator among smart city systems because only a proactive system can be considered smart — prevention costs much less than mitigation. It will be very interesting to look into smart city projects in London, Paris, Tokyo, Reykjavik, Singapore, Seoul, Toronto, Hong Kong and Amsterdam because these cities follow New York in the rankings.
For the greenest cities, six of the top 10 are Scandinavian countries: Copenhagen (1st), Amsterdam (2nd), Stockholm (3rd), Reykjavik (6th), Helsinki (9th) and Oslo (10th). Three are in the Americas: Vancouver (4th), Curitiba (5th) and San Francisco (8th). London is at seventh place. Curitiba is the first sustainable city in Brazil. The city has more than 50 square meters of green space per capita — much more than the UN recommends — which is remarkable considering that the population almost tripled in the past 20 years. Instead of spending much more on engineering solutions for diverting waterways, the mayor decided to develop a large green belt around the city to solve its flooding problems.
Urban resilience is the capacity of communities to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kind of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience. Here in the Philippines, weather disasters are a constant threat. We must remember that a city’s resilience is largely a design issue. We can design buildings and infrastructure that can withstand earthquakes and flooding. Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Chicago, and Pittsburgh are the five most resilient cities in the world.
When it comes to urban mobility, Hong Kong ranks first, followed by Zurich, Paris, Seoul, Prague, Vienna, London and Singapore at 8th place. According to the Sustainable Cities Mobility Index, Singapore is currently investing in developing a more integrated bus system that will cater to the expected 6 million population by 2030. The same study revealed how the small city state is a perfect testing ground for driverless vehicles. Self-driving technology companies in Singapore are developing autonomous truck fleets that will operate on public roads.
The next four categories for the top 10 cities in the world reveal a close connection between being safe and innovative and attracting tourists through gateway cities. Bangkok, London and Paris are the top three tourist cities. Dubai, the top gateway city with the highest international arrivals, ranks fourth in the top 10 tourist cities. Airports are gateways to cities all over the world, and they give visitors a first impression of the people and their culture. Top cities in the world have world-class international airports. These countries are leaders in innovative technology, such as what we see in Singapore and New York. Seoul, Paris and Tokyo are also among the highly sought after tourist destinations. People seem to be drawn by the culture and society of these cities, but they are also attentive to the safety features of the places they visit. Tokyo, Singapore and Osaka are the top three safest cities in the world, and they are also among the most visited ones, too.
In 2021, the Philippines will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Magellan on Philippine shores and the introduction of Christianity by Spanish missionaries. To mark the 500 years of Westernization and arrival of Christianity, we are hoping for a revival — a sociopolitical, economic, urban/regional, cultural, spiritual and environmental renaissance in our country. We can develop a culture of integrity by addressing corruption to strengthen good governance, criminality to enhance peace and order, and climate change to reinforce environmental sustainability. If we work well on these, Philippine cities will one day be included in the top 10 cities of the 21st century.