Event Overview

Over half of the world’s population of 7 billion people now lives in cities.  Estimates suggest that by 2060 this figure will be 80 percent : continued population growth and an unrelenting migration from rural areas will pour an additional 5 billion people into cities. A very likely consequence of this rapid rural to urban migration is that in a few short decades most of the world’s cities will more than double. Consider this in light of the fact that if current demographic trends continue, global population will stop growing around the same time. Together, these projections indicate that cities will grow rapidly for five decades, and then stop growing altogether.  Thus, the cities of 2060 might be the cities of 2160, and 2260. 

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What do these forecasts mean for future design of our cities ? 


The forum, “Five Crucial Decades of City Building” will look at the two urban design trends are emerging, in some places as a consequence of and in other places as a response to, these globally observed rural to urban migrations. Characterizing these two trends broadly as ‘concentrated’ versus ‘dispersed’, the design ideas that these categories represent can be thought of in a number of dialectical ways. ‘Big’ versus ‘small’ ; ‘mechanical’ versus ‘organic’ ; ‘master planned’ versus ‘haptic’ ; ‘instant’ versus ‘incremental’ ; ‘global’ versus ‘local’ ; ‘pointy’ versus ‘flat’ ; ‘formal’ versus ‘informal’ ; ‘capital-intensive’ versus ‘entrepreneurial’ ; ‘high rise’ versus ‘low rise’ ; ‘subway/freeway oriented' versus ‘walkable’ : these are some clear examples of the diametrically different characters embodied by these two different urban design trends. Interestingly, while these two trends are distinctly different, more often than not they coexist in the same city.  

And yet there is almost no organized discussion on the relative merits or demerits of these patterns with regard to sustainability. 

Sustainable urban design theory continues to focus primarily on large interventions (landscape urbanism) and technological advances (green buildings). Are there any urban design lessons to be learnt from informal communities around the world, communities that demonstrably demand less energy and fewer resources than most formal sustainability initiatives ? And here the reference to informal communities is not limited to cities of the developing world that are seeing large rural-urban migration. It extends to informal working-living relationships in developed countries as well, relationships that are emerging as a result of migration waves from the developing world to the developed world and that are redefining cities in the developed parts of the world as well. 

The premise of this forum, then, is that there are design lessons to be learnt from these communities. With case studies from different parts of the world, looking at issues ranging from urban densities and transportation structures to land tenure and livelihoods, this forum presents the much-needed opportunity to foster ideas exchange around an unexamined topic that is crucial, yet absent, from the current discourse.

The presentations will follow a six-minute format and will be streamed live through the event.