Megacities 2030: life above the smog

Urbanization | As a technology group operating worldwide, thyssenkrupp is able to offer new products and services that will have a noticeable impact on the environmental footprint of future megacities. However, as no one can predict with precision what will happen in the next few decades, in the Foresight process thyssenkrupp always develops several scenarios that describe a variety of developments. In our scenario we describe the fictional metropolis of Chengoho. The city is firmly in the hands of private investors. To escape from its own dense smog, the market-driven Moloch counts on a modular Lego approach.

In Chengoho, the investor Li Shu is just now walking onto the roof garden at the top of his skyscraper and letting his gaze wander over the city – or rather, over as much of it as can be seen at present. Shu lives at a height of almost 1,200 meters, which means he is far above the cloud of smog that covers Chengoho on most days. Down below, in the blanket of haze, live people who have not been as lucky as Shu – for, in this city, social status can easily be deduced from the number of the story on which a person lives. At the very bottom, the buildings are plain tenements, enveloped in permanent pollution and the relentless noise of a city that never sleeps.

Up above the smog

Higher, starting approximately from the 50th story, live Chengoho’s middle class: not exactly luxurious, but much safer and more spacious than the accommodation available to the lower class. There is hardly any interaction between the different social strata. People do not merely live at different levels, as even transportation is organized hierarchically. Thanks to horizontal connections between skyscrapers, no one from “up above” needs to venture anymore into the dangerous tumult of the roads at ground level. Instead, traffic flows within the various levels.

The market rules it all

Beside Shu stands the journalist Linda Bergsson from Stockholm. She has come to Chengoho to write a portrait of this billionaire investor and to introduce her readers in Sweden to the alien world of this Asian megacity. “Is it not rather unfair that you are able to enjoy fresh air up here while your fellow human beings down there are coughing in the smog?” the reporter asks. “Why?” Shu responds with genuine incomprehension. “We are a functioning market economy. Everyone here can make something of themselves, and the government, fortunately, leaves us completely in peace to do that.” Indeed, policymakers did decide years ago to leave the city’s future development largely to private investors like Shu.

The Lego approach: In smog-covered Chengoho, additional stories made of prefabricated components are added as they are needed – with no regard for aesthetics.
The Lego approach: In smog-covered Chengoho, additional stories made of prefabricated components are added as they are needed – with no regard for aesthetics.

Living the Lego life

The result was a proliferation of larger and larger buildings, on top of which additional stories made of prefabricated components were simply added whenever they were needed and with no regard for aesthetics. This process is known mockingly by European architects as the “Lego approach.” This muddle is compounded by constant changes of ownership: as parts of a building often change hands after a few months, construction work is constantly in progress. Everywhere, places are being renovated, new space is being added, or façades are being smartened up. And where it is no longer possible to create fresh living space by extending a building, wrecking balls come along to make room.

The Asian dream

Construction work is done with processes and materials that have been relied on for decades and can be obtained cheaply. The only obvious innovation is the transportation drones that carry materials to the top of the skyscrapers and have taken the place of traditional   cranes. “What part does sustainability play in your investments?” Bergsson asks. “For me, immediate cost-efficiency is key,” Shu says. “In other words, if you want to pay for the luxury of new materials or energy-efficient technologies, they are all available. It is up to everyone to decide for themselves.”

In stark contrast to Chengoho, the ficticious Hongtsiu offers its 25 million inhabitants a sustainable paradise. Discover more in our article “Megacities 2030: sustainability first!”.

thyssenkrupp – pioneer of the urban future

For now, the bionic buildings of Hongtsiu are still fiction. However, it is perfectly possible that they will be towering up into the sky in many places, especially in Asia, by around 2030 if the “S.I.M. City UNLIMITED” (Sustainable & Safe, Innovative, Market-driven) scenario developed by thyssenkrupp experts at Foresight workshops in Singapore becomes reality. After the future of work in production and last-mile urban mobility, “megacity upgrading” was the third topic in the Foresight series, which the Group is using to make early preparations for possible developments in about 20 years’ time. By comparison with today’s megacities, with their 10-million-plus inhabitants, future conurbations could have even larger populations – in China, for example, they are already thinking about urban clusters with more than 100 million inhabitants.

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