If you’re anything like me, you can’t help but feel crowded in today’s cities. It can be exhausting to push through the congested streets of London, or wherever you might be. I often catch myself frowning when I visit Soho, bumping shoulders and rubbing elbows on trains and sidewalks.
But if I tilt my eyes upward, I see a skyline that is steadily climbing and expanding, not just in size and stature, but in creative ideas and human values. And I ask myself what is the future for these packed metropolises?
Similar is the motivation behind The Future of Cities, a recent Youtube documentary produced by The Nantucket Project and directed by Oscar Boyson. The film is an 18-minute cinematic excursion across the global cityscapes, travelling the planet in search of answers to one overarching inquiry:
“Is the future of urbanisation going to be a good thing or a bad thing?”
We begin with an exploration of Songdo, a master-planned smart city that appears to be cut straight from science fiction and pasted onto the South Korean coast.
“There is a race to build a functional workable city and to replicate that model all over the world”, says international relations expert and best-selling author Dr Parag Khanna. But Songdo is just the beginning…
Boyson goes on to interview innovators like David Hertz, whose companySkySource is using solar energy to convert airborne H₂0 molecules into usable liquid water, and social activists like Nobel Peace Prize nominee
Dr. Arputham, whose unified movement Slum Dwellers International is using organised social reform to unite the world’s poor communities and facilitate their self-rehabilitation.
Amidst the immense display of insight and intelligence, I found myself particularly struck by one moment of candour from Dr Jockin Arputham.
“We don’t need you to come and sit on my head and dance”, he remarks. “I know how to write my song. It is my dance, my song. I will play it.”
“If you want to help, channel your support through us”, paraphrases Boyson
Herein lies the heart of The Nantucket Project’s film: it is “us”, the people of the world inhabiting and vitalizing our cities, who are at the centre of urban progress.
As author and venture capitalistRandy Kosimar so eloquently puts it, “we need to think about how we want cities to behave in terms of people… because cities aren’t buildings, they’re people”.
Boyson shows us countless ingenious urban designs and solutions throughout the video, such as complex food delivery systems, floating schoolhouses, and interactive utility software. But with every impressive idea and structure we see, it is the people, the citizens of the global city, who stand out. They deliver the food, they build the schoolhouses, and they design the software.
The film concludes with the aptly referenced words of Jane Jacobs: “sidewalk contacts are the small changes from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow”. This remains true more than thirty years after Jacobs first wrote it.
For me, that makes it so much easier to tilt my head down again, look at the overflowing subways and streets around me, and smile.
“The future of cities is people”, summarises former NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn.
And the future looks bright.