As a Design Researcher on the Future Cities Catapult City Strategies team and a PhD candidate in Innovation Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art, Gyorgyi Galik was invited to contribute to a panel discussion at Imperial College’s Future Cities Symposium.
How will we balance sustainability and development in 21st century cities? In other words, as city populations grow to house a predicted 75 percent of the world’s population by 2050, how will we meet so many urban citizens’ needs and expectations, without sacrificing the natural environment?
This was the critical question debated at Imperial College’s Future Cities Symposium. After some short talks by industry experts in sustainable housing, energy, food and water, the audience was invited to ask them, and our own panel guest Gyorgyi Galik, some difficult questions.
First up was the role of technology in future sustainable cities. Whilst most panel experts agreed that data security in a world of smart cities is a concern, all agreed that with appropriate data management, smart technology is vital for the path towards urban sustainability. Smart water and electricity meters in homes were given as an obvious example, alongside the peer-to-peer trading of home-generated renewable energy, which is already thriving in the Netherlands.
Next came the question of whether ‘development’ and ‘sustainability’ represent contradictory or compatible concepts. Can the two really go hand in hand? Whilst there was agreement that we can continue developing more sustainable technology and infrastructure, some also argued that cultural expectations need to change. Dr Sarah Bell, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Engineering at UCL, highlighted how our existing water supply and sewage systems give a false impression of endless supply, so as a society we currently expect just that.
This issue of material limitations brought up a thorny question to close the evening: how easy would it be to nurture political will for the ideas discussed? This is always the difficult part, but the panel as a whole was fairly optimistic. We’ve come on in leaps and bounds the last few years, so hopefully we’ll continue in that vain…