Sustainable cities must stop recycling old approaches

That often-provocative question of “where did cities come from, and why?”, is timeless. It is always relevant, regardless of our knowledge of history, interpretation of the past, and vision of the future.

It’s a question that is relevant every day of the week. Because every day our cities are changing, as well as the forces that shape them. Technology, and the flow of data, is one such force. And the velocity at which we are accumulating data, is staggering.

In this article by our Associate Partner Aurecon, they explore the idea behind Professor Tim Flannery’s necessary ‘resetting’ of our cities, rather than continuing with our historical ‘repeating’. He uses the climate crises as a critical driver for this necessity, and purports that future cities will hinge on access to low cost renewable energy. This however, will require a new narrative, insight, and hard work.

For this to occur, there is one fundamental ingredient – our willingness to move from a mindset of paying the cost for necessary change now, or later. The former is of course the preferred, but this article raises a critical point about our city-building practices – the fundamental recipe we use has never changed.

Our cities have a big appetite for land, and natural resources. And this, fundamentally, is not sustainable. Good, sustainable city planning and design still has no substitute, but with new digital layers emerging in the city that use technology to help us collect, communicate, and crunch data for greater efficiency and liveability, we are slowly steering the ship of city-building into new sustainable waters. — Adam Beck


Cities are the engine rooms for economic advantage on the chessboard of global competition. They throb with the possibility of what could be, where the power of intellect and muscle are brought together in an exotic mix to avail their ingredients to the entrepreneurialship of human ingenuity.

Yet despite their potency, there is something else that a city needs to fan the flames of economic growth. Beneath the foot traffic of its pavement, urban underbellies are underlain with infrastructure that convert raw materials into products and services. Power, water, transport systems and communications are the pistons that drive the ebb and flow of trade and industry. Cities move and morph and forge the economy forward, all within a day. And those who occupy its nooks and crannies are ideally the first to benefit from its good graces.

It is worth stepping back to consider how it is that they came about and what it was that brought them into existence. It is worth considering how is it that this formula has been magically repeated with an uncanny consistency in countries around the globe over hundreds of years.

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