The city, the future, and you

August 27th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Business & Economy, Cities, Environment & Energy, Innovation | 7 Comments

When we look to the future in the rest of this century among the trends that seem likely to be sustained are these two: people are moving to cities, and cities are the engines of economic prosperity. These two trends put increasing pressure on cities to become sustainable in every way – environmentally, economically, and as a human habitat. This year Canadian futurist and writer Dennis Walsh and I began a conversation about a book on the future of cities. As the conversation continued the concept moved toward a discussion of cities but more so of the personal choices we face if we are to make cities and by extension the planet a sustainable place to live. These choices loom large for young people as they shape their own lives, and, we hope, save the future. Now we are writing, and have decided to release the first draft of the book as a blog serial. Today we launch the first blog, chapter 1 part 1. Our plan is to publish a new book blog nearly every day for the next couple of months. We will publish them both here on futurist.com and on dothefuture.com. Later we will compile the blogs into an e-book.

Right now we are debating about the eventual title. We have two choices: “Downtown” and “Shine…The Rebirth of American Cities.” Which do you like? We hope you will find the subject of interest and follow this book in serial form.

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CHAPTER ONE – Part 1
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

Is “making do” the best we can expect in our future? Is the future simply making the best of a bad situation? Will the way forward be reduced to finding a way out?

Caught in a gridlock of ideas, unable to turn back the clock and loathe to go forward, we stand at a crossroads between what is and what may still come. The boom times of the 20th Century and even the early 21st Century are over and the fantastic sci-fi future of our dreams is unlikely unless some one can come up with trillions of new disposable dollars.

What is at risk? Our theory in this book is that American cities and the people who may live in them are at a cross-roads of what could be life and death conflict over what the future city will look like. And there are questions of consequence.

Will society continue to emphasize exclusion or embrace inclusion? Will we pursue the positive and affirmative issues that unite us, or will we hang on to the fear and hate-based issues that divide us? Will we be a society in which corporations serve the interests of the people and local communities, rather than people serving and being subservient to their interests? Will we ever rise above the dead-end politics of us vs. them, and learn to embrace the politics of creating a greater us? Will the economic system carry on catering to the rich? Or will we come to respect environmental realities and honor the rights and welfare of ordinary people?

This book recognizes that a society, economy or country is neither great nor successful simply because it amasses the most wealth conceivable. The evidence is growing. No matter how high the GDP, a system that serves the interests of a scarce few at the expense of the many is a failure. A society that exploits unborn generations and the natural world on behalf of the 1%, is profoundly immoral. The future – if we are to have one worth living – belongs to you, the younger generation. The tide of history is changing. It is time to get ready; time to make choices. The most critical of these choices include, “how am I going to spend the rest of my life”, “where will I live”, “which career will I chose at this moment.”

Chances are you have already thought some or most of this through. You may have already processed much of the information we will discuss in this book. You have identified some of the problems. And that is good. But we will take you deeper, much deeper than you have gone before.

Some cities are considering whether or not to change course. For some it is too late. But the future is not all doom and gloom. There is hope. There are some obvious solutions for those cities willing to adapt and compete for people and for jobs. The new competitiveness that will take us into the future means that cities must learn to be great. That kind of greatness will take resilience and sustainability. It will mean being different, very different; distinctive in fact. To be distinctive, cities will become innovative and super connected. And that is where you come in. It is your time to shine. You are the wildcard.

To be truly great cities will need money and talent. Talent acquisition leads to investment that creates jobs. Companies locate where the talent is. It all comes around full circle. More people and jobs create wealthy cities. No wonder cities are trying to make themselves attractive to you, highly talented and skilled youth – a generation that does not buy into the status quo.

The system is failing (some might say has failed). You know it, and you have no interest in propping it up. Your future is a different world. The cities in which you will work and play “get it”; these cities will be cool. And those cities could be anywhere in the world. The cities that “get it” have already begun the cultural and economic changes that will redefine them in the competitive new world to come.

Your assignment – should you choose to take it – is to read this book and use it as a guide to help chart your future. This book will give you a better understanding of what the future holds; the cities (and careers) to avoid and which ones to explore so that you too can shine. Whether you are a college or university student, a 20-something just entering the workforce, or a young leader on your way up, we hope to tell you what we’ve learned through experiences that leave us dreaming of a better future that the one we are facing, and that lead us to hope that you do better. We believe that you will.
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[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com, and curator of Dothefuture.com. Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through futurist.com]

7 Comments

  1. Gail Olson
    Sep 4, 2012

    Cities are located primarily in prime agricultural land, and growth of the cities translates to agricultural land being removed from production. Are you going to address the issue of balancing urbanization with ag land preservation? This seems to be an important sustainability issue that merits discussion.

  2. Gail Olson
    Sep 4, 2012

    Reference to “the 1%” hints of a political flavor, which may turn off some potential readers.

    • Glen Hiemstra
      Sep 5, 2012

      Gail, point taken but we see reference to the 1% as mostly an issue of math – it is simple math that most new wealth has been flowing to the top 1% in recent decades. There are many reasons for this. But if it continues it is difficult to solve societal problems or sustain a democracy.