Optimists tend to envision a future with perfectly automated cities, full of technology and without poverty or hunger. Most tend not to think of the path needed to create this new urban fabric, as if it will miraculously emerge like the futuristic, planned settlement of Masdar City in Abu Dhabi.
But that is not the most probable scenario for the future of cities — at least, not if we keep supporting broken models of urban planning.
Consider housing. It may sound absurd, but when conventional construction methods (concrete blocks and mortar) are used to build 100 square metres in the developing world, up to 45 per cent of raw materials are wasted. In most cities, one house can take up to three years to build, at a cost up to US$30,000.
Globally, UN-Habitat estimates that three billion people are already in need of a house, and this number is set to double over the next 15 years. So even if local governments pour more money into infrastructure, they will fail to meet people’s needs before a city turns into a vast slum.
It’s high time we adopted new techniques to address the pressing housing and shelter crisis. I am not only referring to slums, to post-disaster reconstruction in Haiti or Nepal or to the refugee crisis in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. I am also referring to the whole approach of urbanisation and construction: we have to entirely rethink how we build, plan and regulate. We need to build not only more, but better.
But we have the technological tools and intellect needed to tackle the challenge. 3D printing is one example. It was originally created more than 30 years ago, but is now establishing itself as a feasible marketable product and a truly scalable technology.
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