From the first settlements until the end of the 18th century, human kind has added one billion inhabitants to the planet. Global population has grown by that same amount in the last decade alone. A century ago one 1 in 10 people lived in cities; now over half the planet’s seven billion inhabitants do. This massive urban growth has led to many questions, and few answers. One might see successful cities grow slowly over millennia or rapidly over a few decades. Cities live and flourish or wilt and fail by their ability to adapt. Now in a new era of expedited urbanization, real, honest city planning must start before streets are laid out, before concepts are illustrated.
To create great plans for a city, one must first consider the inhabitant: Who will live in this city tomorrow? In fifty years? A hundred? Are they drawn from the countryside, from villages and towns, or from other countries? What opportunities do they expect to find? What do they find? How employable and educated are they? How will they be oriented and educated? Fed? Taken care of? What legacy do they leave behind to their children? Grandchildren?
One must consider the context: What traditional and cultural patterns define this place? Under what role and political system does this city exist? What local, regional, and national aspirations weigh upon this population? How does this urban population connect with the greater global economy?
One must consider place: What is the local ecology? How are local conditions shaped by geography? What currently occupies the land? How will the land be shared going forward? Where does the water come from? Where will it go? How is this place connected? Powered?
Regardless of scale, whether a new city or renewed city, honesty in design embraces these unknowns, it thrives through these challenges and because of the opportunities this complexity creates. Through collaboration, through the free flowing of ideas across disciplines and expertise come solutions that are intrinsically bound to the greater fabric. The master plan of a city, then, is an organic framework and organizational strategy imbued with this collaborative wisdom to promote natural growth and adaptation. We cannot begin to know what will define the city a century from now or even a decade, but if we collaborate with the city’s occupants and empower them with better tools and plans, we will fulfill our responsibility to build cities of culture, commerce and innovation.
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