The City of Many Layers

The sci-fi movie fantasies depicting the cities of tomorrow have a range of commonalities: the sheer density of urban form, the soaring building heights and the multistorey compartmentalization of space into different uses. The ground becomes the seedbed for humans to pass around with proportionally greater ease – a more efficient and pleasant way to live. The echelons above ground level are the breeding ground for mechanized urban mobility, each layer presenting a free and rapid flow of electric vehicles hovering the city straights. Movement is reaching optimized levels as the notion of traffic becomes antiquated; congestion is monitored by an inter-connecting set of supercomputers that ensure the most well-ordered movement of humans, goods and services.

The ground consists of sweeping green areas, beautified public recreation areas and other habitats (such as exotic biomes). The basic quality of life created is of exceptional caliber and the health of urban citizens forges a major platform for human advancement. Life expectancies rocket, the plights of an aging population eliminated and perhaps even civilian morale will be boosted (which trickles down from the corporate world to the very basics of family life). In fact, an Austrian architect by the name of Frederick Kiesler, the mastermind behind the ‘City in Space‘ concept, claimed that the ability to “move in a straight line” without physical impediment (besides buildings) is one of the key drivers behind lowered energy consumption.


On a formation level, the multi-layer urbanization attaches itself to the genius of M.C. Escher and De Stijl – an elaborate and complex simplicity – a  strictly linear configuration partnered with buildings heavily adorned in robotic attachments. These property add-ons can perhaps underpin the real estate revolution in years to come, as development processes are completely overhauled. A new apartment or office need not require the packing of all of your belongings and hauling them to a new location, but instead your personal urban compartment can be transported to a location of your desire. A rental market would dominate proceedings as the building owners (whether that be single freeholders or property groups) offer the potential to attach one’s home to their structure. This would eradicate the economic volatility that arises from bullish markets, making socio-economic conditions more easily manageable. Additionally, new hi-tech development industries would be hatched that compete for the most cost-effective, speedy and secure methods of transporting residences. The city becomes more of an organism in itself as this starts to take shape and as planners alter their zoning agendas, they can stimulate the movement of land use much more precisely and easily than ever before in history.

Urban planning mechanisms will not only scrutinize urban sprawl, zoning and mobility on a horizontal level, but a vertical one too. “The commercial district is three blocks up in this neighborhood, one block north and above of the legal quarter.” New issues come from perpendicular sprawl too such as building structural capacity, meteorological conditions and oxygen levels. The policing on several levels is also a cause for concern as ghettoizing becomes layered and criminal activity shifts around on this new 3D grid-like axis. Planning becomes doubly as complex. The flipside here is that surveillance can perhaps be more powerful in a downward view, as opposed to sideways, and monitoring can encapsulate a wider surface area. Not only that but citizen protection technologies and public inspection will be far more sophisticated and equipped to perform more accurately and faster. But will a Minority Report-esque situation simply undermine the upswings in quality of life?


Virtual City Spaces

Recommendations from The Forum of the Future say “ICT and the advent of ‘virtual city spaces’ [will] replace a large portion of physical travel” and although this sounds like a reduction in the quality of life for many, the benefits of such rapid communication, transferal, transactional and social exchanges mean that carbon constraints can be even more intensive. Business will certainly benefit from accelerated operation but the environment will too – the use of web conferencing, and reduction in air travel, in today’s business context is completely commonplace and one can only dream what lies ahead. Face-to-face contact will be done so efficiently that humans can even claim “minutes of carbon neutrality” for a personal reward. The infrastructure will be in place for “environmental wages” where governments incentives spread to the precise technicalities of a person’s ability to remain carbon neutral for X amount of time in a day.

However, will this escalating use of the advanced virtual user interfaces take over our social life to the point of no return? Will lifestyle choices be made online so easily that the idea of actually living human existences as we see them now be tweaked forever? With the benefits to the way in which the city performs as an entity in terms of energy, water, crime, form, congestion and others – do we sell our souls to the zealous adoption of these new efficiency gains? Do we simply become the extension, or the plugin, for our own “personal” computers?

Additional resource: Megacities on the Move – A guide to the future of sustainable urban mobility in 2040 [PDF]