Engineering the Future of Cities
Tom Spendlove posted on November 21, 2017 | 1817 views

Robert Muggah says that cities take up three percent of the world’s surface area but are responsible for 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Three million people move to cities every week, and the cities are responsible for 75 percent of the world’s energy consumption. In his Ted Talk The biggest risks facing cities – and some solutions, Muggah lays out his plans to engineer cities into the 22nd century.


The major dangers cited toward our cities are income inequality, youth unemployment, violence, poverty, and exposure to natural disasters. Syria is used as an example of a country affected by drought and oppression, and more than a million Syrians moved to cities.

Along with his team at the Igarape Institute and consultations with civil engineers, architects, city planners and development specialists Muggah has come up with six strategies for cities to implement in the next decades.  

The first strategy is for cities to develop and a plan and implement it. Singapore laid out a fifty year plan in 1971 and renew that plan every five years. Many cities are too busy dealing with daily emergencies to plan the work and work the plan. The second strategy is going green. Investments in green energy, emission reduction, and biodiversity are all available now.

Investing in multi-use solutions is the third strategy. Solving multiple problems with one solution is a great engineering principle. Seoul has transitioned from mostly automotive transportation to 75 percent of its citizens taking public transportation. The result is less emissions, less traffic congestion, and a population that doubled in the last three decades without a major expansion of its global footprint. The fourth strategy is to build densely but sustainably. Dallas-Fort Work is noted as a city system where just five percent of people use public transportation and possesses some of the longest commutes in North America.

Stealing ideas from others is the fifth tip. New York, Seoul, Singapore and Medellin are cities noted for taking the best ideas from other places and adapting them. The last strategy is working in global coalitions. C40 and the Global Parliament of Mayors are name checked as coalitions of large cities that work together to share solutions and ideas. Muggah says there are more city groups than nation-state coalitions.

Muggah is an excellent speaker and this talk is heavy with statistics and big ideas about sustainability, energy, civil engineering and planning. Data visualization is also a fascinating component of this talk, with several graphs and maps showing where global population centers exist now and how the next hundred years will bring changes in population and land mass. The opportunities for engineers exist in areas of building, planning and designing the next century of cities. 

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