The term “city building” has such a straightforward ring to it - and yet has become one of this century’s most complex and urgent tasks.
Over the next few decades, the city building fraternity – if such a collective noun makes sense - needs to provide for another one billion plus as populations grow, and as urbanization continues to sweep the world. Those needs will be met by building entirely new cities, by regenerating and retrofitting older ones and, increasingly, by creating new models of urban living that can deal with the pressures of density, environmental challenges and the costs of making cities work in an efficient and effective way.
But who will be delivering these cities of the future, and how will they be funded and managed?
The traditional blueprint of the relatively straightforward ‘win–win’ city building partnerships between the public and private sector is a comfortable memory for some, compared to the complex risk sharing, financial modelling, strategic planning and coordination of multiple parties that is the stuff of modern development. Add to this the fact that cities have nowhere to hide with upwards of 110 indices charting their progress across a wealth of indicators, and corporate and investment worlds that are ultra-sensitive to competiveness, and we have the 21st century context of city building where multiple models are emerging to suit economies, cultures and aspirations.
Whether categorized as destination cities, gateway cities, tech cities, eco cities or world cities, it is not imagination or enthusiasm that will be the challenge in delivering the future urban agenda – just the age old issues of money, momentum and management. Cities will be looking for new partnership styles and new sources of capital to support their ambitions; they will be looking at methods to deliver all styles of infrastructure ever more quickly and efficiently, and vitally for governance and leadership models that work towards consistent long term planning.
Challenges like these are pushing a re-evaluation of the roles and responsibilities needed to see through this incredible era of urbanization to a successful conclusion. The view that the public sector’s capital should be concentrated on enabling works rather than on development itself, leaving this to the private sector, is one perspective that has some traction in the cash-strapped circumstances of many cities. Indeed, the private sector may well need to take on increasing responsibility for the economic and financial viability of a city, and for the management of much of its assets and utilities, but how far should it also engage with the provision of a city’s social needs?
For example, corporate provision of housing is an area of involvement that has historic precedents. A great number of ‘company towns’ built in the US in the 1900s were a response (at worst) to the need for companies to secure loyal and steady workforces, and (at best) to make a genuine contribution to the quality of life of their employees. At their peak there were more than 2,500 company towns, housing 3% of the US population. Port Sunlight and Bourneville - built in the UK in the 1880s - beca