Megacities 2030: sustainability first!

Sustainability and climate protection | 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. One scenario describes the fictional metropolis of Hongtsiu, where sustainability is the top priority.

Mayor Wu loves these visits. Once more, a large group of his counterparts from Europe and the USA have come to Hongtsiu to marvel at this rapidly growing business metropolis in Southeast Asia. There is, indeed, no shortage of reasons to do this, for in just a few decades a largely unknown city of five million inhabitants has turned into a megacity that is home to 25 million. The city’s leaders have also succeeded in shaping its breathtaking growth green and offering Hongtsiu’s residents a quality of life that is admired worldwide – thanks to a consequent sustainability approach.

Sustainability first!

“Sustainability is our top priority,” Wu tells his guests. “And this is no mere exercise in lip service: we actually examine all investment projects for their impact on the environment and our residents’ of life.” From their viewing platform at a height of 450 meters on one of the city’s newest skyscrapers, the 14 mayors who have traveled here can see for themselves what the “Green first!” maxim means in practice: not only between the individual buildings but also on many of the stories and roofs of the neighboring high-rises there are lush green spaces full of trees, bushes, and flowers. It is almost as though the city has been inseparably interwoven with parkland in three dimensions.

Inseparably interwoven sustainability: city and vegetation merge seamlessly together.

Inseparably interwoven: city and vegetation merge seamlessly together.

Green is worth it

“Is your sustainability politically ordained or the result of genuine demand from the public?” the mayor of Chicago asks. Wu loves this question and responds with a satisfied smile. “It is both,” he says. “Policymakers have realized that we have to operate more sustainably, and the public have enthusiastically followed this lead.” However, this is not purely the result of taking pleasure in good deeds. The government understood the need to combine the common good and self-interest: for many years, goods and services have carried “green points” informing consumers about their sustainability. The more green points an item has by comparison with a rival product, the less it costs. “This has led to a fundamental change in consumer habits,” Wu says. “Sustainability has, so to speak, entered our inhabitants’ DNA, with absolutely no loss of comfort or prosperity.”

Sharing it all

The visitors had already noticed this in the city’s road traffic. No one in Hongtsiu seemed to have their own automobile anymore, as car-sharing and public transportation were the norm. But that was not all: other things in the city were also used communally wherever possible – even kitchens. “After all, possession is very limiting,” Wu explains. “In our sharing economy you can rent an Italian kitchen, for example, if you feel like pasta, or a French kitchen if you want a chateaubriand on your plate. We share everything that it makes sense to share. What lies behind this, though, is not a romantic notion of common ownership. We are simply ensuring, in a manner regulated by a market mechanism, that we use our limited space with maximum efficiency. By the way, this evening we are going to cook and eat together in an original Chinese kitchen.”

Humans and nature in harmony

Hongtsiu also trod a new path in construction at an early stage. Much of the public infrastructure, such as transportation routes and power plants, is now underground, where it no longer disrupts harmony between humans and nature. For the city’s spectacular buildings, “intelligent” materials with a perfect environmental footprint and the capacity for self-restoration are used, as the government realized at an early stage that this is the most important tool for sustainable construction and deliberately promoted innovation. “We were one of the first cities in the world to opt for automated construction with robots and 3D printing,” Wu reports. “And instead of constantly putting buildings up and then pulling them down, we are pursuing bionic growth – our buildings grow in accordance with our needs.” Here, too, market principles have prevailed: it is mainly private investors who are active in Hongtsiu, as they have recognized that sustainability is also beneficial for them economically.

While Hongtsiu offers its inhabitants a sustainable paradise, the ficticious, smog-covered Chengoho is all about the free market. Discover more in our article “Megacities 2030: life above the smog”.

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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