Future cities will be taller, tougher and more opportunity-rich: Next City's Ariella Cohen - Generocity Philly

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Dec. 8, 2015 12:25 pm

Future cities will be taller, tougher and more opportunity-rich: Next City’s Ariella Cohen

Cohen said an important element of future cities will be a "fusion between the formal and informal" at #RiseConf15.

Taller, tougher, more opportunity. (Photo by Flickr user OZinOH, used under a Creative Commons license)

(Photo by Flickr user OZinOH, used under a Creative Commons license)

Today, approximately 54 percent of the world’s population dwell in urban areas. By 2050, that percentage will jump to 66. For inclusive and livable cities of the future, we need to begin planning now. According to Next City Editor-in-Chief Ariella Cohen, that means cities need to be taller, more resilient and rife with opportunity.

The first problem: Finding a place to put all those people. The solution: Build higher and smarter.

“[Existing] housing is a huge challenge for buildings of the future,” said Cohen at Technical.ly’s Rise Conference, emphasizing the need for American cities to renovate their older homes. Not to do so, she said, is to lose that land as a resource for more useful buildings.

And as the global climate changes, Cohen said there will be future employment opportunity in building resilient cities — jobs in green construction, green retrofit and green infrastructure. Plus, Cohen said, development of public transit will present a huge opportunity for today’s cities to create jobs, reduce carbon emissions and more dense, walkable and livable communities in the near future.

Continuing the topic of employment, Cohen said it will be crucial for cities to bridge the divide between “formal” and “informal” work. That fusion between the two will be driven by technology, and Cohen used ride-hailing app Uber as an example. Uber, she said, is nothing but a “gypsy cab rigged up” to an app.

“We need to learn how to engage people who have been doing informal work,” she said. “In terms of economies and housing, we need to be thinking about how not to fight back the informal but how to welcome it in, grow together and innovate together.”

An example of what not to do, Cohen said, is HafenCity in Hamburg, a city “by the rich, for the rich.”

HafenCity might be forward-looking in its architecture and amenities, but by the same token, it’s a city rendered economically inaccessible to most people. But Cohen said a remedy might lie in public-private partnerships.

“There are ways to leverage the wealth coming to cities for the good of everyone,” Cohen said. “What we need to do is have more intentional government policies to make sure that with every fancy new development, there’s inclusionary zoning.”

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One tactical solution could be community land trusts, in which the land is owned by a nonprofit, but the home built on the land is bought on a long-term lease that controls how much profit the buyer can make on the sale. It’s worked in Boston, Cohen said, adding that the Philadelphia Land Bank has been entertaining the idea. But there’s one problem.

“It’s a little politically tricky because it kind of sounds like socialism,” Cohen said. “We have to get past that, but there’s real potential there.”

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