The emergent environmental, technological and social demands of a future in a resource-challenged world will require some fundamental changes in society. Many of these changes will become very evident in the social and physical structure of cities as they evolve to meets these new demands and constraints.
Unless the rate of population increase drops drastically, populations will continue to grow rapidly for the next several decades. A combination of incentives from various sources will concentrate the majority of people into cities. Cities are where the best opportunities and services are available, from food and medical care to entertainment and social opportunities.
Many jobs within these cities will be in manufacturing and services roles that require an actual presence at work. For many of the others, telecommuting is an option, but the professional and social opportunities afforded by work will have workers going into their offices or other places of employment at least a few times a week.
Cities will go one of two very distinct directions, the first of which will be discussed in this article. In the core areas, the trend will be towards ever higher population densities, accomplished through the construction of taller buildings and smaller living spaces. These living spaces will be multi-purpose, and each area will be capable of transforming into a variety of spaces based on a combination of both hidden, slide or popout elements, and inflatable elements. Construction materials will be largely concrete and spun glass, with bamboo and kiri wood composites used in flooring, furniture and cabinetry.
While these buildings will not likely go the full arcology route, they will see a mix of uses within their walls, including some shopping and recreational features, along with facilities for greywater use and recycling. Many new buildings will also incorporate thin-film solar panels along their walls, generating at least a portion of the power required by the building. Rooftops will be given over to garden areas for the residents, likely at a premium in rent or condo charge. Many buildings will have green walls as well, using high-yield container gardens in the window spaces of apartments to grow kitchen vegetables, fruits, and herbs.
In terms of food consumption, meat is an inefficient source of calories, and consumption of animal protein will be sharply lower than it is now. In fact, most meat consumed in urban areas will likely be vat-grown rather than from living animals, but will still be rare due to the energy requirements. Many city-dwellers may look on the chickens raised for food in rural areas with a mixture of disgust and disdain. As much food as possible will come from local sources, as the cost of shipping is extremely high, even with the use of large solar-electric airships for point-to-point shipping.
Buildings and neighbourhoods handle food and biological waste with community composters, with the compost shared out to local roof gardens and for use in greenwall systems. Only toilet water is not recycled for some use. The amount of garbage each person can produce is restricted by law, with penalties for going over.
Pets are even more rare in the cities than in rural areas, without the justification of pest management or food production. Again, robotic pets are very common, especially for senior citizens and children.
Advanced and effective medical care is readily available, with the costs primarily borne by the government. However, there will likely be premiums for those choosing to live unhealthy lifestyles (and bonuses for those who live very healthy lives), all in the name of reducing medical expenses.
Car ownership in the urban cores is almost non-existent, with mass-transit and electric taxis being the order of the day. Many buildings will have rental services for small and large electric vehicles as needed, but social conventions will be against the use of personal vehicles. The mass transit systems will be well-developed enough to compensate, however, with buses of different capacities operating on primary and feeder routes, along with light rail systems along major routes. Shopping and entertainment districts will be specifically designed to be pedestrian-friendly, and in colder climes will feature enclosed, or at least covered, walkways. Facilities to support bicycles will be extremely common, and many bikes will feature battery-powered assistance for long commutes and handling hills.
While travel isn’t common, virtual travel is, to any point around the world, on nearby planets, or in shared imaginations. What little personal travel there is either by low-speed, relatively inexpensive airship, or by high-speed, and insanely expensive, supersonic aircraft.
These city cores will be surrounded by farmland, dotted with the occasional suburban community. The farms will be a mixture of conventional open field and high yield greenhouses. Solar panels and wind turbines will cluster around farm buildings and suburbs, providing at least a portion of the required power.
Cities like this would not be self-supporting for food or power, as the concentration of people is just too high. However, they would be much more efficient than a current city, reducing the load on regional power generation, food production, and waste management. These cities would require a different conception of privacy and personal space than is the norm in western society.