WATCH: Smart urbanism, not smart cities by Maarten Hajer

THE CHALLENGE OF THE CENTURY is one in a series of short videos commissioned by the IABR for its sixth edition, IABR–2014–URBAN BY NATURE– ( | Director: Alexander Oey | Producer: George Brugmans

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It has been estimated that over 70% of the world’s population shall be living in cities by 2050. This means that over the next 40 years we shall be witnessing a mass exodus of over 2 billion people to the cities hoping to make their homes there. This would not have such an impact on the the developed world that already has a mostly urbanized population and highly developed infrastructure that can cope with an influx of new inhabitants. The challenges would partly be faced by the major cities of the developing world, such as Lagos, Shanghai and Beijing. Rapid urbanisation, however, shall mostly affect smaller cities as they would have to quickly adapt and cope with the quick increase in population and creating the capacity for it. Creating an efficient system that provides the essentials of food, water and energy. More often than not, they end up employing systems of development that are not sustainable.

The challenge is not to find smart cities, but smart urbanism.

With major threats such as climate change, it is of paramount importance that the way in which we progress takes into consideration nature and the environment. The major mandate of the 21st Century, the century of the city, is to reinvent urbanism; create a new theory and practice of the city. This needs to happen through the method of ‘global networked urbanism.’ This means learning and figuring out the best models of development through collaboration. Observing the models that work and then adapting and employing them to the development of new cities. This is an opportunity not be missed, learning from the mistakes of the past and then ensuring that they do not occur again in the newly developed world. The idea of the modern city that is car-based, poor at waste disposal and lacking creativity in terms of fully utilizing renewable resources is outdated and needs to be completely redefined. Urban spaces need to be looked at as flow systems of light, water and mass. Examples of what the new modern city could be are places such as Songdo, Masdar and plans for Dongtan. However, we need to remember that there cannot be a generalised system being used to address the problems of every city, it has to be adapted to each unique situation.

The challenge is not to find smart cities, but smart urbanism.