100 New Cities by 2050: Architecture, Planning, Urban Design, Infrastructure, and Real Estate

According to “Project on the City,” a research program in Harvard conducted by Rem Koolhaas: “At the outset of the 20th century, 10% of the population lived in cities. In 2000, around 50% of the world population lives in cities. In 2025, the number of city-dwellers could reach 5 billion individuals (two-thirds of the population in poor countries). In 1950, only New York and London had over 8 million inhabitants. Today, there are 28 megalopolises. Of the 33 megalopolises predicted in 2015, 27 will be located in the least developed countries, including 19 in Asia.” It was also published that for every hour, 60 inhabitants are added in Manila. 


The Philippine population is projected to rise to 148.3 million by 2050. As our population continues to grow, we would need 100 new cities by 2050. Challenges we are also currently facing include climate change and the destruction of our ecosystems, among others. To accommodate such a huge number of people in the future and to manage other challenges, our architecture, planning, and urban design should be more sustainable, inclusive, healthy, and resilient.


In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a list of the world’s most future-proof cities. San Francisco topped the list followed by New York, London, Boston, Los Angeles, Paris, Amsterdam, Toronto, San Diego, and Chicago. This week, I would like to share global best practices that are being implemented to make cities future-proof. We can also apply these best practices to help our cities remain resilient despite rapid urbanization and other challenges.


I have guest-lectured at Harvard and studied eight courses there, including Advanced Management Development Program for Real Estate, Master Planning and Sustainability, and Architecture and Sustainability. We have also written three books and more than 700 published articles here and abroad about architecture, urban planning, design, infrastructure, real estate, and global best practices. After visiting more than 2,000 cities in 79 countries and territories, I have observed that there are at least six types of infrastructure for world-class and more successful cities. These are progressive, hard, soft, institutional, green/sustainable and, the latest, digital infrastructure. 


Global best practices

New urbanism – According to the American Planning Association, this is a “time-tested planning practice that incorporates interrelated patterns of land use, transportation, and urban form to create communities that foster the most desirable characteristics of human habitation.” The approach envisions and transforms cities to be diverse, compact, walkable, mixed-use, highly connected, sustainable, and vibrant while preserving natural environments, history, and heritage.


Vertical urbanism - Urban development through vertical urbanism will help alleviate rapid urbanization issues by providing more compact, high-rise residential towers for mixed-income families and individuals. Adapting vertical urbanism will save on space, land, and utilities. This concept saves space, and more of it can be allotted for green areas and public spaces that will contribute to a healthier environment for all.


Smart city - Smart cities harness information and communications technology and integrate it with development planning to deliver more efficient and high-quality urban services that ultimately enhance the quality of life in the city. According to the World Economic Forum, the top future-proof cities are also advanced technological hubs. As the foundation for future-ready and smart cities, digital infrastructure must be optimized. Through it, we can attain a smart government, smart economy, smart living, smart people, smart mobility, and smart environment. Smart government refers to the ease of doing business, transparency, absence of red tape and corruption, and availability of open data. A smart economy fosters entrepreneurship, innovation, and interconnectivity where small to large businesses can prosper. Smart living promotes community security, health, and vitality. Smart people strengthen human capital through accessible, world-class education regardless of location and time. Smart mobility encourages faster, environment-friendly, and more affordable transport. A smart environment deals with urban plans and innovative ways that protect the environment.


Green infrastructure - We should not rely solely on grey infrastructure that pertains to human-engineered infrastructure. This must be efficiently combined with green infrastructure that is defined as using natural systems and nature-based solutions to address urban challenges and strengthen climate resilience. It also considers environmentally responsible technology, design, and development methodology. Different forms of green infrastructure have been increasingly utilized as an urban planning solution for the urban water cycle and other urban challenges.


Green architecture - It is critical to immediately and drastically change how we design, build, use, and deconstruct buildings. Green building components like cross-ventilation, water recycling, solar power, rainwater harvesting, smart lighting, solar shields, and day lighting, among others, help ensure energy, water, and land use efficiency; low environmental impact; material efficiency; low maintenance cost; waste reduction; use of renewable energy; and indoor environmental quality. Huge amounts of energy are consumed in the extraction, manufacturing, transportation, use and disposal of materials today. Therefore, we should opt for materials that are locally and sustainably sourced, reusable, have recycled content, and are highly durably yet have low or zero carbon. 


Nature conservation - Nature conservation and sustainability in planning positively impact people and the environment and create economic opportunities. Singapore’s green spaces now cover 47 percent of the land area, Sydney’s green spaces cover 46 percent of the city, while New York has 27 percent public green areas. Sadly, creating and cultivating parks and open spaces and preserving natural forests and other ecosystems in our urban areas have not been much of a priority in our cities’ development plans. Moreover, waterways and coastal areas are among our towns’ and cities’ primary resources, yet it is often overlooked when it comes to planning and design. Elsewhere in the world, waterways and waterfronts are prime and vibrant community spaces that are well-preserved. 


With a “Do Nothing Scenario,” Metro Manila is no longer sustainable. We should support regional and urban guided development outside Metro Manila and bring our country well into the 21st century.

Image Source: San Francisco, world’s most future-proof city – AARP website