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Expanding Cities – Diminishing Space

The world’s total population is expected to hit the 10 billion point in the 2060s, more than 70 % living in urban areas.

Cities are not only growing in population, but are expanding in area.

Even with constant number of inhabitants there is a demand for more space. In many cities the demand of floor space per capita for housing is still growing, on the one hand due to higher living standards, on the other hand also as a result of changes in social structure resulting in high percentages of single person households. Also transport infrastructure, industrial zones, shopping centres, logistics centres, event and leisure facilities etc. consume additional space.

As a consequence cities also grow into 3rd dimension: “up into the sky” and “going underground”. Many cities kind of expand in time, become “cities that never sleep”, extending their urban activities to 24 hours per day all the year round – 24/365. Even in countries and regions with constant or declining population numbers, it is still the cities that attract people.

While the “hunger” in the literal sense for food and resources is growing, the “spaces in between”, especially agricultural land, but also natural retreats and buffer zones are diminishing.

These aspects of city expansion do not only lead to massive changes all over the world, they also arise multiple challenges, chances and risks which have to be dealt with in planning processes. Current projections indicate that during the next decades the space occupied by cities will be more than three times the amount of today’s urban areas. This leads to a loss of agricultural and green spaces as well as to huge growth of urban population. The majority of the world’s population is already living in urban settlements. Not only megacities like in China, India, parts of Africa and Latin America are growing fast, but also small- and medium-sized cities are gaining population rapidly.

So on the one hand there is the threat that the permanent demand for more space leads to a number of consequences such as scarcity of resources, infrastructural bottlenecks, pollution and devastation of land or social conflicts. Questions arise on how to deal with these problems at short notice, and what has to be done to find solutions to these challenges thinking in long-term strategies – the challenges and problems seem huge.

On the other hand more and more unprecedented (urban) technologies are available to monitor and manage cities. Monitoring is as well done by remote sensing in stunning precision, and by extensive sensor networks in (almost) real time.

Smart urban technologies promise a contribution to the solution of multiple challenges we are facing in cities. However, these technologies are a precondition for the management and also for the growth of bigger and bigger urban agglomerations. Is this development sustainable? How resilient are huge urban systems based on highly complex technology? Smart urban technologies can be applied in wide fields such as:

  • Administration, (e)Government and Governance
  • Communication and Information Processing
  • Transport and Mobility
  • Energy Management, Resource Management (Utilities)
  • Safety and Security
  • ...

An essential aspect is to overcome “disciplinary approaches” and having a holistic view of the city – an approach that urban planners claim to have been using forever. With all the technology in focus of course the goals of sustainability and resilience remain as important as they have always been. Cities are mainly about people and not about technology, so it is still “quality of life” that should be in focus.

REAL CORP 2018 is going to show the current state of the art as well as to present projects and approaches for the use of future technology. Of course there are a lot of open questions and fields of research. These are some of the topics of REAL CORP 2018:

Facts behind Urban Expansion: Which cities are growing? Why? Where? How? At which rate? Sensors, Satellites, Drones … – modern technologies help to monitor, analyse and explain the dynamics of urban and rural areas. Can they also help find solutions?

Exceeding the City Limits, Urbanisation Continues: Cities are growing fast. What can be done if the existing urban areas are exhausted? Expansion into the outskirts – urban sprawl and dedensification, expansion into higher density, expansion into height, expansion into underground spaces?

Housing, Infrastructure, Commercial development, …: the real estate perspective on future cities

GIS, 3D and 4-Dimensional Planning, BIM: When systematically expanding in height and into the underground, how about the rules and the planning in 3rd dimension – do we need a 3D cadastre?

Nowadays many buildings are not built to stay forever any more. Especially commercial buildings have a life span; when they have fulfilled their purpose, they can be replaced by something else. So what about 4D planning that requires 4D information systems? Can BIM (Building Information Management) help to manage highly complex projects?

Vacant Countryside: Still people tend to move into cities: for better jobs, shorter paths, more infrastructure, easier supply, ... Rural areas lose more and more population, but what about further maintenance of these spaces? Will rural areas be marginalised or can they become more attractive again? What about “Smart Villages” and “Smart Countryside”?

Migration: Movement into cities does not only affect the domestic population. Cities also have to face international migration, by choice and in terms of refugees, causing the risk to overburden cities regarding their melting pot functions. What can be done  to improve, organise and manage the coexistence of many different nationalities, religions and culture in a limited area?

Future Mobility: eMobility, autonomous vehicles, (semi-)public transport, intermodal and multimodal mobility, “self-powered mobility” – cycling and walking – or can we even avoid mobility growth by creating an infrastructure of short paths? REAL CORP discusses approaches in passenger mobility as well as in cargo mobility.

Soil Sealing: The total area covered by cement, asphalt, concrete etc. is expanding. Today’s footprint of the world’s urban settlements is more than 1 million square kilometres (which, for reasons of comparability, equals the area of whole France and Spain). Sealing of soil leads to problematic urban microclimates with heat islands and falling ground water levels whereas at the same time the surrounding areas have to absorb all the water that is drained from cities. Extreme weather and flooding cause lots of damage and destruction and lead to further problems by contamination and plagues. Can green buildings, green roofs, vertical farms and green spaces in cities solve the problem, or is it already to late and we can just face the consequences of the last decades’ developments?

Energy of the Future: Today’s energy demand, especially in peak hours, still forces the use of fossile energy sources or nuclear power. However, fossile energy resources are limited – to solve energy demand problems in a long-term perspective, on the one hand renewable energy sources have to be fostered, on the other side the overall demand for energy has to be scaled down introducing low energy urban solutions. Cheap oil is a driving factor of urban growth because it beats down the prices of city supply and logistics.

Scarcity of Resources, Cirular Economy: The permanent growth of population, especially in cities, has already led to shortages in supply of food and drinking water in some regions of the planet. Also rare-earth elements which are a key factor for (rechargeable) batteries and electronic devices, are subject to limited availability. Continuing urbanisation as in its current form will be an overall threat to global food supplies in the future when food production cannot keep up with population growth any more. Can new spaces for the production of renewable resources be developed? Are there ways to deal more thriftily with non-renewable resources? Is recycling or upcycling a solution to the growing demand for resources?

Expansion of the Internet, Big Data: In 1984, the whole internet consisted of about 1,000 cross-linked computers. Today approximately 3 billion people have internet access, this equals to 40 percent of the world’s population. Data storage is cheaper than ever before and broadband access makes it easy to have even hugest amounts of data travel around the world, even with mobile devices where the next communication standard 5G is already in preparation. Big Data and the internet of things are already a reality. What are the consequences for cities, citizens and for urban life?

Cities as Liveable, Accessible, Human-Oriented Places: By means of information and communications technologies cities are transformed into smart organisms that are designed to work perfectly to create a high standard output in terms of knowledge, carbon footprint, mobility and logistics, big data etc. – but what about the people living in the city? Are they willing to be part of a high tech environment? How to design safe, liveable, healthy places to live? There are different approaches towards “Smart Cities”. Sometimes the impression prevails that technology is seen as a self-purpose, but above all cities are for and about people. With all the technology in focus of course the goals of sustainability and resilience remain as important as they have always been. Cities are mainly about people and not about technology, so it is still “quality of life” that should be in focus.