The Beam Podcast, Episode 2: How to Build Sustainable Cities of the Future

*The future high street for digital media. MBC Media City, KSA — © SOM I MESHROOM


With the number of people living within cities projected to rise to 5 billion people by 2030, it’s important to have a holistic view on how to approach the future and deal with the challenges brought by urbanization.



About 4,2 billion of us — more than half of humanity — live in cities today. By 2030, which is barely 11 years from now, this figure is expected to reach 5 billion. This rapid urbanization is exerting huge pressure on freshwater supplies, sewage, the living environment, and public health, among other things. One of the key figures around cities today is that while the world’s cities occupy just 3 % of the Earth’s land, they account for 60–80 % of energy consumption and 75 % of carbon emissions.

For many of us who were born outside of them, cities were an enabler to advance socially and economically. So how do we overcome the challenges of this rapid urbanization in ways that allow cities to continue to thrive while improving resource use and reducing pollution and poverty? What are the new pathways to create sustainable and resilient cities for a livable and inclusive world? And how can we already support and accelerate socio-cultural, socio-economic and technological transformation for cities to be more sustainable in the future?

All of these challenges can be seen as opportunities to reinvent what cities are, and what missions they should fulfil for the people. Cities are in fact the perfect experimental field to innovation and sustainable development. «Buildings, cities and landscapes have structured human behaviour for decades, if not centuries », wrote Carola Hein in a previous editorial for The Beam. And across many countries in the world, they already are hubs for ideas, culture, science and social development.

So, while many challenges exist to maintaining cities in a way that continues to create jobs without straining land and resources, there are already a lot of answers and solutions so that the cities of the future provide opportunities for all — with access to basic services, energy, housing and transportation — improve livelihoods and build a sustainable future.

Involving citizens through participatory implementation, encouraging local private and civic engagement, promoting social innovation supporting inclusion, accelerating sustainability and innovation through public procurement are some of the ideas that are necessary to provide a solid base to build the cities of the future, a future beyond oil.

To talk about these exciting issues, we have invited three experts who shared with us their vision and ideas to take cities forward.

« It is really scary to look towards the future and to see how much in some ways we are strangled into a system that doesn’t even value a single, individual decision. So, to me, I think it’s important to look at this in a more structural way in a more systemic way and to see how could we have an entire system change. »

Through her work, Carola Hein has been working on how to reshape a city with today’s economical, environmental and social contexts. In this second episode of The Beam Podcast, she introduces us to the concept of ‘petroleumscape’ and we talk about how we can actually move beyond oil.

« I think if the cities and politics are creating a new policy in order to improve and build a sustainable city, the engagement of its local actor will be key to make it successful. »

Chloé Pahud created Civocracy, a digital citizen engagement platform created to help the citizens and the local governments make changes together and for the common benefit. With her, we talked about the importance of citizens participation in influencing policies, among other things.

« I believe, and many of my colleagues are with me on this, that cities are the places where the greatest forces of change are currently in operation. And I think if we can solve issues at the city scale we’re actually going to have our biggest bang for our buck in terms of planetary health »

With Daniel Ringelstein, we talk about how creating more compact urban growth patterns should be the catalyst for future thinking both in terms of advancing technology and social well-being. We have also started to talk about how cities can build resilience against the consequences of the climate crisis, a question we will be exploring further in a future episode.


The Beam Podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts and wherever you get your podcasts from. You can also explore all episode on our Podcast Page.

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