By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion, with 75 percent of us living in cities. What will this mean for the design of our urban fabric and its infrastructure? How should architecture and infrastructure factor in climate change, resource scarcity, rising energy costs, and disaster resistance?

The answer could include buildings that feature vertical urban farms, glow-in-the-dark trees, solar-powered pathways, and urban wetlands, according to global engineering, design, and planning firm ARUP’s new report, Cities Alive. The report, which was created by the firm’s foresight + research + innovation and landscape architecture teams, asserts that it is critical that cities address population growth, climate change, resource depletion, pollution, and urbanization by creating more sustainable urban communities that consider nature as a primary concern in development. In addition, architects, builders, planners, and other professionals must recognize the value of ecosystem services (the processes by which the environment produces resources such as clean air, water, soils, food, and materials). The result is a vision of future cities as an integrated network of green spaces where technology and nature work together to improve the health and wellbeing of all residents, as well as that of the environment.

What will drive the future of the city? ARUP's Cities Alive maps out individual drivers that will affect the future of the city. © Arup

Key in this development is more widespread use of green infrastructure such as open spaces; urban woodland and parks; green streets and public realms; sustainable drainage systems; rivers and waterways; and green roofs, walls, and facades. Benefits of these technologies and strategies include reduced flood risk, increased life expectancy, reduced illness, and greater community engagement, according to the report.

These systems must also be attuned to technology, as the population in 2050 will feature adults who have grown up with smart devices and materials. As a result, “we could be living in cities where everything can be manipulated in real-time and where all elements of the urban fabric are part of a single smart system of an ‘internet of thing,’” according to the report. This means lighting and heating that responds to people’s presence, and smart systems that eject shades or rain cover to protect from weather, or paths that automatically heat or light up as conditions merit.

ARUP's strategies diagram charts the relationships and flow between the design strategies explored in Cities Alive. The strategies not only affect and are affected by each other, 
but also have identifiable crossover points where more specific needs can be drawn out. © Arup

Click here to access a link to the full report, which includes detailed checklists for landscape architects and city designers on design strategies for future cities.