A glimpse in the future of cities

I know, it’s a very promising title. Close to clickbaiting (sorry for that) but read along and hopefully you will have learnt something at the end, just as I did.

I went to an exposition called ‘City of Tomorrow, a glimps of where we ‘re going‘ in Ghent (Belgium). Of course, the title appealed immediately to my attention. On the website of STAM, where the expo was held, you can read:

A city is never a finished product, and Ghent is growing. How can we set about tackling the shortage of space in an intelligent and sustainable manner? How do we ensure that the city remains liveable? What ideas and dreams are there for the future? Artist Elly Van Eeghem has created a multidisciplinary exhibition on this very subject entitled: ‘A glimpse of where we’re going’ and it doesn’t conform to planning guidelines for the zone.


Curious to find out how they see urbanization in the future, Elly Van Eeghem has invited contributions by some thirty artists, scientists, entrepreneurs and urban planners. She also shows pilot projects by Ghent residents, concrete answers to some of the challenges Ghent will face in the future.

Ghent is a fascinating city. One of the most beautiful and lively cities of Belgium where a lots of things happen. Recenlty they stated they want to ‘become the scale-up city of Belgium’, more about that in my blogpost about Cities and creativity. And it’s not a false promise, at the expo I learnt that in Ghent there are more than 500 companies in the creative sector, they give work to more than 4% of the total employement in the city.

Belgian cities can learn a lot of Ghent I believe. Recently they launched a new mobility plan with these key points:


Ghent is also working on a ‘Structural plan’ towards 2030. It is a strategic vision and does not have specific goals or KPI’s but they do ask to people living, working, studying,… in Ghent how they see it.

A quote I read at the expo:

Elly van Eeghem asked to more than 30 people the question:’How do you imagine the future of a city?’

There are workshops, talks and more. You can anwser that question in so many ways. At the expo you see maquettes of (parts of) the city, quotes, artwork,… All different, all relevant. A city is so multidisciplinair that it is difficult to have a bird’s-eye view.

An artist created The City Rings, an auditory portrait of the city, a socioligist created ‘Common’poly, a variant of the Monopoly game as a critic against the injustice of real estate, a writer wrote a poem,…

Elly van Eeghem has a lot of experience in the workfield of cities and working with communities so the expo is worthwhile a visit.

To anwser her question, she often started with the idea of building a new city. It is seldom that a city is build from scratch so you always have a legacy. And changing things is hard.

I said ‘seldom’ because there are cases where cities are build. For example in the UK where the governement announced to build 14 new villages of between 1.500 and 10.000 homes to answer their housing problem. They call it garden towns. More than 200.000 houses will be build (they promised to build 1.000.000 so there is still a long way to go). The reason there is a housing problem in the UK is because of the very high housing prices in the cities and the limitation in the UK to build new houses.

Or what about Songdo? The prototype of a smart city. You will read/see more about this city later in this blogpost.

At the expo they were mainly busy with the social aspect of a city. Bringing people together. But of course there is also a technology aspect.

Oscar Boyson is a vlogger who started an interesting project about the future of cities. With a little bit help of his followers (watch here and here) he created a roadmovie along interesting cities in the world. Cities that show a glimp of how the future might be.

I liked the video but I am also a bit critical about his point of view. Boyson focusses to much on the opportunities (technology brings good) and to less on the threats (technology brings bad).

Just to give one major challenge we face in smart cities: issue of privacy. Where do we draw the line of what can be known by who and for what reason. Not an easy one but for sure something that will shape smart cities.

A very specific solution Barcelona is trying to solve their car problem in the city is explained in the video below. They started with a concept some years ago and they succeed in giving back the streets to the pedestrians:


The question that is raising in Belgium is whether we should see all our 308 cities as one smart region or all 308 cities as individual smart cities.

Again, a difficult one because one smart region gives the possibility to scale smart solutions to other cities but on the other hand each city has it’s own specific needs. ‘One size fits all’ is difficult but would be a good way of working.

And maybe we will have night mayors in the future? It already excists. Mirik Milan is the night mayor of Amsterdam and even held a Night Mayor Summit. Paris, Zurich, Nantes,… also have one.

The night mayor is the link between the night life and the city council. It’s a non-paid job at the moment but if you know for example the night-time economy of London is worth 66 billion, than you know there is potential. We’ll see what the future brings… Ghent for example has a night mayor ad interim when their annual music and theatre festival is held (Gentse Feesten).

And to end this blogpost something about the past. Because they always say that you have to know your history to understand your future. Time Machine is a project that aims to recreate virtual old cities. You can see it as Google Street View but in the past.

EU is thinking of subsidizing it for half a billion to a billion euros. Already 70 institutions in 20 countries support the idea. They need the support because digitalising all the information of the archives is a lots of work.

Frederic Kaplan already introduced Time Machine at a TedTalk in 2014. A nice closure for a blogpost about the future of cities:


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