International
Federation for
Housing and
Planning

THE PROSPERITY PARADOX

The challenges that cities are facing today are many and complex in both scale and span, and that makes it difficult to decide what to do next: the panelists at the WCS Keynote Plenary discuss about priorities and possibilities for the cities' future

 

The urbanization trend is growing rapidly, much faster than we think. We are facing social, environmental, economic, and cultural problems and new conditions emerge in the cities we live in. Especially one trend seems to be escalating in cities worldwide: while few citizens continue to become wealthier, poverty in the urban environment increases as well. People’s quality of life was one of the main burning issues raised by the five keynote panelists at the WCS in Singapore.

 

According to one of the key figures in the panel, Jeremy Bentham, vice-president of Global Business Environment at oil giant Shell, this phenomenon has led to what he called "the prosperity paradox". All this amazing prosperity and growth is also amplifying the stresses on cities, which has evolved within the last 50 years. The question is if this type of neo-capitalist growth continues the next 50 years? And if so, is that really what we should be aiming for? The question raised in the plenary session, seems to hit directly into the Achille's heel of the prosperity-oriented planning agenda. We basically cannot continue growing and consuming the way that we have been doing for the last century. That should not be the goal of our cities, the panel argued.

 

And as 60 mil. people move to cities each year, what will happen, Mr. Bentham asked. If consumerism and economic growth until today has been the main driver for happiness and life quality in the city, what will it then take to create a new common set of values, and a new shared vision for the good city? These are key questions in a time where the massive migration to cities and incontrollable sprawl put a great pressure on our cities worldwide and the planet that we share.

 

Last year, the highest release of CO2 was released, Mr. Konrad Otto Zimmerman, head of the Global Association of Local Governments, said that leaders  must stop think linearly. The panel supported this argument, all stressing the importance of strategy governance and immediate action. Summing up on the discussion, more than half of the world's population is living in cities, and there is no doubt  that trend towards urbanisation is accelerating. According to the UN, two third of the world population will be living in urban environments by 2040, and if that's a fact, city leaders, governments and businesses need to see prosperity and relation to the city from multiple perspectives instead of linearly.

 

The final and maybe must noticeable remark was made by the Deputy Secretary-General of Beijing’s Municipal Government, saying that the future is bright, yet the road is long. We will only succeed if we use innovative solutions to improve both our cities hard and soft systems - bridging the gap between planning and people. All in all this plenary gave me food for thought, and left me with the feeling that we have to start asking fundamental questions about the role our cities should have, and last but not lease how we secure the quality of life in cities of the 21st century.