Apocalypse Urbanism: The end of cities as we know it?

by Joe Peach at This Big City

What to do when shops close in cities as a result of economic challenges? Find a new way to fill them. What about dealing with inadequate municipal governments? Engage citizens to provide the services they want. Cities are always changing, but a couple of things seem to remain constant: there will be challenges, and there will be ways to overcome those challenges.

Or will there? Throughout 2012, our #citytalk tweetchat series has explored a range of pressing urban issues, from economics to energy, employment to accessibility. But we are yet to discuss how cities might cope in a truly worst-case scenario. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, environmental disasters are not things that might happen to cities in the future, they are happening right now. And yes, people of the developed world, it does seem that we can’t buy ourselves out of this problem.

Hurricane Sandy left citizens without energy, without transport, and without access to most of the things that provide us with a high standard of living. Though there is plenty of disagreement about what causes environmental change, most people agree it isn’t going anywhere. Climate change is already challenging cities across the globe, what happens if it gets worse? Can our cities cope in a warmer world with higher sea levels and more disruptive weather patterns?

Though war remains ever-present across the globe, the last sixty years has been comparatively peaceful. Thankfully, the sequel to World War II has so far remained fictional, but what if that changed? How might our cities be different if global conflict became a tragic reality once again?

And what about our loyal friend Capitalism? It’s been part of the family for so long that it’s hard to imagine a world without it. But in an apocalyptic vision of the future where everything is different, how would our cities be affected? The prosperity of urban areas has often been attributed to economic opportunity, but if economic opportunity was no longer as compelling, what would be left of our cities?

The future, just like the past, will be challenging. We can see many of these challenges coming, others may take us by surprise. Cities at their best can be fantastic places to live, but at their worst… do we truly know?

Join This Big City and Future Cape Town on December 5th at 1PM EST/6PM GMT/7PM CET/8PM SAST for our next #citytalk tweetchat. We’ll be exploring a worst-case scenario for our cities and encourage you to join the discussion.

Image courtesy of ufunk