Main Supercities On, Under, and Beyond the Earth: Housing, Feeding, Powering, and Transporting the Urban..

Supercities On, Under, and Beyond the Earth: Housing, Feeding, Powering, and Transporting the Urban Crowds of the Future

As more and more people inhabit the Earth and live longer on it, Super Cities, will explode with populations of 20, 30, even 100 millions or more. But how will these cities accommodate such masses? Who will build them and where? How can they be sustained and their inhabitants provided for?

Here, Jeff Dondero imagines the super cities of the future and explores the ways in which they can be sustainably built, how transportation will move masses of people without cars, how people will be fed and where waste will go, and how we will move to cities underground, under the sea, in the atmosphere, into space and on to other planets. It describes some of the smart systems for buildings and homes and some of the new ways food and materials enough for such masses will be supplied.

Will super cities be the answer to our bursting population? And if they will, how can we best sustain and supply them? Dondero offers suggestions and a blueprint for the future.

Year: 2020
Edition: Retail
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Language: english
Pages: 296
ISBN 10: 1538126710
ISBN 13: 978-1538126714
File: EPUB, 1.62 MB
Download (epub, 1.62 MB)
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	 Supercities On, Under, and Beyond the Earth

	 Supercities On, Under, and Beyond the Earth

	 Housing, Feeding, Powering, and

Transporting the Urban Crowds

of the Future

	 Jeff Dondero


	 Lanham • Boulder • New York • London

	 Published by Rowman & Littlefield

	 An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.

	 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706

	 6 Tinworth Street, London SE11 5AL, United Kingdom

	 Copyright © 2020 by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.

	 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.

	 British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available

	 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

	 Names: Dondero, Jeff, 1947– author.

	 Title: Supercities on, under, and beyond the earth : housing, feeding, powering, and transporting the urban crowds of the future / Jeff Dondero.

	 Description: Lanham : Rowman & Littlefield, [2020] | Includes bibliographical references and index.

	 Identifiers: LCCN 2019042357 (print) | LCCN 2019042358 (ebook) | ISBN 9781538126714 (hardcover ; alk. paper) | ISBN 9781538126721 (epub)

	 Subjects: LCSH: Cities and towns—Forecasting. | Urban transportation—Forecasting. | Smart cities—Forecasting.

	 Classification: LCC HT151 .D56 2020 (print) | LCC HT151 (ebook) | DDC 307.76—dc23

	 LC record available at

	 LC ebook record available at

	 TM The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.


In the early 21st century, perhaps the most important artistic genre is science fiction. . . . [It shapes] how people understand the most important technological, social, and economic developments of our time.

—Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

This fanciful and factual peek into the future of cities is as much scientific possibility as it is fiction, but the flights of the imagination herein are based on real science. Some of these castles in the sky admittedly may not come to fruition, at least not in the next several decades, but most will be at least in the planning stage by the time we’re securely on the moon or Mars. They are based on the projections and perceptions of some very sage and sapient minds.

As far as colonizing other vistas is concerned, I think humankind has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that any challenge that lies over the next horizon, whether it is on, under, over, or above the earth, will not be left unmet. And heading for the stars may be the biggest hurdle humans have faced since they dropped down out of the trees.

This book may read like a combination of sci-fi tech-talk. In a way I guess that makes me a futurist. But this book is meant to provide a glance into the next generations of food, building materials, structures, modes of transport, and possible lifestyles. It is also a wake-up call to stop and think before we get swept up in the seductive vortex of technology, and to reflect on the fact that the future does not just happen; it is created by us, and we will be held responsible for the decisions today we make for tomorrow. We are now taking steps not by mathematical projection (one plus one) but in a logarithmic manner (ten times ten), and these are the biggest techno-strides we will have taken in humankind’s history.

One thing is for certain: there is a groundswell of people thronging back into our cities, and our metro spaces are not prepared for it. What we find in cities today are exorbitantly expensive houses, buck-busting rents, deteriorating inner-city transportation, embarrassing homeless situations, inadequate treatment of waste and pollution, and the need for improvements everywhere from roads to resources. Our cities are dealing with the chasm of difference among the socioeconomic classes in terms of distribution of the necessities of life; restrictive rules, codes, and regulations in building; bureaucratic bungling; and poor planning.

There have got to be some changes made—and not old, passé Band-Aid fixes but far-reaching, novel ways that not only combat our current problems but also provide sustainable innovations that will work for the ages, not just for a few years.

We are living in a cross between yesterday’s science fiction and soon-to-be scientific fact; for what is fantasy today may well be reality tomorrow. It will be run by technology, which, like a force of nature, nothing can stop and which we have only just begun to understand and respond to. In the future our smart houses and household robots loaded with artificial intelligence may be running us instead of the other way around. We are at the gateway to new and incredible products, materials, and technology, but how are we going to go about managing or manipulating them for our benefit?

The present mindset of our culture is often driven by incompetent politicians, scarcity-oriented economics, and a system of passé values that have to be reevaluated in the face of major disruptive changes. In order for us to be able to make the transition to this new age, quantum leaps in both thought and action are required. Experience tells us that human behavior can be modified toward and through constructive or destructive activities.

It looks like we take the best and worst of us wherever we go; despite our raised consciousness about husbanding resources, protecting the planet and its contents, we also are littering our nearest alien celestial bodies, forming a nascent “space force” despite a treaty that promises we will not do so, and creating an atmosphere of flag planting and raw materials hunting. It has been the hallmark history of humankind to put profit and possessions before people and our planet.

It seems that too often we forgo real personal contact with other people, friends and family alike, in favor of time spent with our electronic gadgets. I have a friend who has a cabin in the woods that has no connection to anything modern and electronic—no TV, cell reception, Wi-Fi, or internet server. Consequently, people in the cabin actually engage in conversation, take walks, and do things together—while looking straight ahead or at each other, not downward into devices.

One thing that we should not ignore, going forward, is inner-city interaction with “green”—it may be the most important color in the city. Many studies have concluded that plants, parks, and quiet natural areas are absolutely essential for relaxation, critical thinking, and physical as well as mental well-being.

One of the ways technology has bloomed is with building materials and methods. Their many forms and uses are nothing short of spectacular. Even old foes like carbon dioxide are going to be either cut back, sequestered, removed, or made into building materials, and recycling and landfill mining will be major megaindustries.

Boomers growing up thought the ultimate technology was the A-bomb and that it was going to bring about our apocalypse. Now technology will be one of our saviors. We now look at science as on the cusp of being divine—some even ask the question of whether God is technology or technology God.

Ironically, maybe we spend too much time isolating ourselves, disconnecting from the real world around us in order to maintain the perception of being connected to the world of today and tomorrow with apps, bots, programs, and computers in “the cloud.”

Even though we are heading toward disruptive and major changes, I am confident that we will not only survive but thrive. Human beings are, if nothing else, essentially problem solvers and progress makers. And we all know that we have lots of problems to solve and much progress to accomplish. But how, when, and in what ways all will be consummated is, well, a crapshoot.

Acknowledgments and Disclaimer

My thanks go to the many people who assisted in the creation of this book, people whom I call curators of information. They tirelessly gathered facts and figures to illuminate the world in order that others may ponder it.

As always, special thanks to my sounding board Patrick Totty for advice, research, suggestions, encouragement, and conversation over a few cocktails.

To my online editor, Suzanne Staszak-Silva, and my production editor, who have been patient and understanding in getting this manuscript into publishing form, and to Rowman & Littlefield for giving me the opportunity to write for others to read.


According to whoever said it first, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Most of the stats here have been gathered by local, state, federal, and international government agencies; scientists; writers; power and utility companies; universities; other informed sources; and the Oz of the internet. Consequently, I do not claim that all the statistics presented represent accurate and true statements, percentages, and facts, and I do not warrant or make any representations as to the content, accuracy, or completeness of the information, text, graphics, charts, web links, websites, and other items contained in their media presentations.

Aggregating and writing information for this kind of book has its inherent problems and predicaments. When presented with the same questions, different people use different ways to find diverse answers and conclusions. Consequently, answers may vary, sometimes quite a bit. In addition, some of the facts presented may be affected by time, changing world events, or new discoveries. As in many things, opinions vary as to number, percentages, predictions, and the veracity, or divergence from same, of the results obtained by individuals using the same information. No one can completely and accurately predict the future. And not all scientists would agree on matters such as global warming and climate change due to greenhouse gases, space exploration and colonization, or the availability of certain products and methods listed herein.

What I have tried to do is present an informed opinion about how homes and metropolises will be built, look, and function. I have also stated that there have been doomsayers that made and continue to make dire predictions about the fate of the earth—I hope I’m not viewed as one of those people, but I figure it’s best to err on the side of caution and not carelessness.

Although most of the facts presented herein are defensible, I use them as literary, entertainment, and educational devices to give the reader a general perspective on the subject of resources, energy, materials, the waste we create, and how we may live and/or cope with them in the future. In an effort to communicate more easily and effectively I have taken some averages, mean numbers, and common sense and have modified statements in order to reflect more than one set of opinions and/or updated them by logic and informed opinion.

The lawyers put it another way: Neither the author or publisher, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, or guarantee, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, percentage, apparatus, product, device, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial copyright, product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement or recommendation. The author does not receive any recompense or trade-offs for any product or persons mentioned in this book.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group or its agents. This book is for entertainment and educational purposes only.

Chapter 1

Seeking Supercities

Surroundings, Settings, and Situations

A city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness of its vision and the height of its dreams.

—Herb Caen, columnist and author

Where trade routes met or a body of water was used as a port or a mother lode of something valuable was found, cities inevitably blossomed nearby. Throughout history, cities have been the heart of the social, cultural, and economic development that has made up much of the fabric of civilization. With cities came divisions of labor, which gave people the time to create cultures and which freed them from the grim drudgery of subsistence living.

And as cities prospered, they grew in size as people moved from farms to factories. But just because they were big doesn’t mean they were the best places in which to reside. In fact, a large population base has been both a hindrance and a help when figuring out whether a city is a super place to live.

As a fuel source coal provided a cheap and efficient source of energy for steam engines, furnaces, forges, and homes across the country. It spurred massive economic growth and was considered a boon for cities. Not until recently have we seen the kickback for the overuse of fossil fuels.

Buildings and urban infrastructure account for 40 percent of raw-material use, one-third of energy consumption, and 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to having ecological footprints several hundred times larger than their actual acreage, according to UN-Habitat.[1]

Problems that are already visible today—land and food shortages, heavy traffic loads, urban and global warming, congestion, and air pollution, to name a few—will worsen in the future. Consequently, scientists and other practitioners have been looking into measures to address these challenges, especially when reenvisioning old and making innovative plans for new buildings. Creators of supercities will have to find answers for how to supply the needs of megapopulations and manage metros of twenty to one hundred million people and all their trappings.[2]

A Look Back

In 1800 about one out of every twenty Americans lived in cities.[3] In 1860 no city in the United States had a million inhabitants.[4] By 1890 New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia had passed the million mark, and by 1900 New York had 3.5 million people (then the second-largest city in the world).[5]

Around 1790, spurred by the onset of the Industrial Revolution, country folks started to feel the pull of the city, because new and better-paying jobs were far superior to farm labor and subsistence living. At the dawn of the 1800s, on average only about one out of every twenty Americans lived in cities, but one hundred years later many cities had grown by about 35 percent.[6] Cities were becoming fashionable in addition to offering preferable employment.

Between 1880 and 1890 almost 40 percent of the townships in the country lost population because of migration to cities.[7] The development of multistory buildings and public transportation made it easier for people to find places to live that were more accessible to their employment.

Since then the population of cities has more than doubled. People were drawn to cities because of employment opportunities that made their labor more valuable due to division of labor. When on the farm, people had to work for everything. They grew their own food, made their own clothes with materials garnered from animals they raised, built their own shelters, had only a modest choice of goods—nothing as exotic as wine or spices—and had little time for recreation. It was a hand-to-mouth existence.[8]

At the turn of the nineteenth century, about three out of ten people populated US cities. The proportion changed dramatically by 1920 to about one out of two, then two out of three in the 1960s. By the end of this century, about 80 to 90 percent of US residents will live in cities.[9]

After WWII the “American Dream” was life outside the city, complete with a car, white picket fence, 2.4 children, 1.0 dog or cat, a little green grass, a backyard barbeque, and maybe even a pool.[10] Fleeing the hordes in the city, “suburbanites” coveted their single-family dwellings, improved schools and parks, shopping centers, commuting in their own cars, drive-through living, and a sense of the peace, privacy, and comfort living in the “country.” They wanted upward mobility and clean, safe places to live. The luxuries of suburbia beckoned—but not for everyone.

Until the Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968, government-sponsored home loans could be granted based on the color of one’s skin—Caucasian was “get-ahead green” and red was everything else. Fully 98 percent of home loans were granted to white folks; the process of excluding all others was called redlining.[11] Ever wonder why the majority of people living in suburbia look the same even now? According to Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times specializing in civil property–related racism, even though redlining is illegal, every year four million people of color face rejection of their loan and insurance applications.[12]

Back to the Future

At the pace humankind is reproducing, we will reach a population of 9.7 billion within the next thirty years. Every day another 250,000 humans are born.[13] The population of the United States will pass a half billion by 2050, and when the earliest baby boomers reach the age of eighty, they will have witnessed the population of the world triple.

Within thirty-five years more than one hundred cities will have populations larger than 5.5 million people,[14] including twenty-seven supercities with ten million and close to twenty megacities with approximately thirty million inhabitants.

This puts an incredible strain on dwindling resources. The effects of overpopulation are becoming more radical: increasing global surface temperatures, depletion and pollution of the biosphere’s resources, waste of water, species extinction, and deforestation. These conditions have been around for many years, but their growth is becoming more swift and alarming.

We have to think about and plan for not only where we are going to put all these people but also how to do it economically, swiftly, sustainably, and humanely. At present the world’s cities occupy only about 2 percent of the earth’s surface but house almost 60 percent of its population.[15] And as cities grow, they also seem to become outrageously expensive; the two most expensive places to live in the United States are San Francisco and New York.

According to the US Census Bureau, 80 percent of the population were already living in urban areas in 2010.[16] More than 95 percent of the country’s most populous state, California, live in metro areas,[17] and that number is projected to grow. Many cities are building “up” because they have no room in any other direction. San Francisco and New York are good examples. The total area covered by the world’s cities is set to triple in the next forty years. This will make inner-city property the next to be gentrified.[18] This rush to cities is exacerbating already monumental problems of traffic congestion, air pollution, lack of dependable power, lack of public transportation, larger parking lots, and flawed overbuilding.

Over the years a subtle shift had taken place. Younger people seeking more affordable, more fashionable, or newer housing were moving from older suburbs to exurbs—rural areas surrounding suburbs—resulting in the decline of the suburban nation.

The Great Inversion of the Movable Millennials

In the past couple of decades, there’s been a “great inversion.”[19] For the first time in nearly a hundred years, the rate of urban population growth has outpaced suburban growth. This is going to cause problems in that cities are already crowded, expensive, sometimes dangerous, and, with ever-decreasing land to build on, lacking places to put people. We are long overdue for beginning to plan for contemporary mega­metro locations to ensure they’re healthy, self-contained, sustainable, and economic to build, operate, and occupy.

The children of baby boomers have eschewed the lifestyle of backyards, burbs, and barbeques. Millennials haven’t experienced a baby boom of their own and are also delaying the launching of one. At present, the nation’s birthrate is going down, and there are more baby boomers and seniors in many suburbs than there are families with young children.[20] The taxpayer base in suburbs is increasingly made up of older folks, as millennials are choosing to settle in urban areas, leading to the decay of suburbia. Aging boomers don’t care about schools, more parks, or recreation; they want the support services they’ll need as they age.[21]

Millennials and Gen Xers are not buying single-family dwellings; instead, they’re renting, and some are still living with their parents or grandparents, in part because of hefty student debt, tight mortgage-lending standards, and the heavy buy-in price and extra cost of the traditional suburban lifestyle. Homeownership levels among heads of households thirty-five years or younger was at 36 percent in 2015, the lowest figure since the Department of Commerce started tracking that data quarterly in 1994.[22]

Millennials no longer desire—nor can they afford to buy—supersized suburban McMansions (homes built between 2001 and 2007 and having between three thousand and five thousand square feet of space).[23] Even more modest homes are being priced out of reach. Construction of single-family homes fell by about one-third between 2005 and 2015, and construction of apartments and condos is at the highest level in forty years.[24] Malls used to be a big draw in the suburbs, but now anchor stores like Macy’s, Sears, and JCPenney are closing by the hundreds, and other chains are moving from suburban areas back to cities.

Millennials are getting older, and studies show they want to live where they can walk for recreation, services, and shopping—whether that’s in or outside of a city. More than 60 percent of millennials have chosen to rent over buying a home.[25] They are the country’s biggest migrators, representing 43 percent of the United States’ most restive population, despite making up only 23 percent of the total population.[26]

Millennials and even some baby boomers are ditching the suburbs for major metros everywhere. And regardless of age, urban dwellers see eye to eye on their vision for the future. They want city life punctuated by parks and playgrounds, an increased ability to bike or walk around their neighborhoods, but also a “bright lights, big city” atmosphere.

It behooves us to remind ourselves of the potential population bomb—humans aren’t just prolific and the apex species on earth. Humans make up the only species capable of radically expanding its population, changing the face of the earth; the singular species that can increase its life span, and force other species into extinction through pollution, tampering with the environment, greed and appetite; and the only species capable of causing its own demise in more ways than one.

Urbs Versus Burbs

The question is not really which is fading but how things are changing. In gentrified areas the best and most expensive real estate—whether in a city or a town—is occupied by the well-to-do, either from being there first or by seeking out the best parts of a city to gentrify. But whether their inhabitants are wealthy or not, cities of tomorrow have to be elderly-friendly, color-blind, and age-neutral.

Cities and suburbs alike started to suffer when major manufacturing markets pulled up stakes and moved because of economic conditions, costing people their jobs. Property values plummeted in places where manufacturing was key, and the cities fell into decay. Suburbs started to languish because young people either couldn’t afford the price tag or didn’t care for their parents’ lifestyle. Tax bases began to stagnate, and “anchor stores” in towns and malls started to shut their doors.

In the suburbs cars became a necessity for getting anywhere—one result of suburban sprawl and some pollution. Goods and services in low-density neighborhoods are farther away, and walking to get anywhere can be difficult. Many places in the burbs are unsafe due to traffic, especially for children. Autos create four times the carbon footprint of higher-density neighborhoods and require roads, parking, and auto support systems. Chauffeuring is required to and from children’s playdates and activities, as well as for doctor’s appointments, requiring more time and miles logged by those who are already driving to work. This is also increasingly a problem for boomers who are partially responsible for their parents’ financial, physical, and emotional care as well.[27]

The compulsory commute junket is expensive, for both one’s wallet and well-being. According to Ivica Marc, a personal trainer at Exceed Physical Culture in New York City, “If you are sitting in a car, train, or bus for long periods of time every workday, you are putting yourself at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and premature death.”[28] And commuting to and from work harms our psychological health and social lives; it can be even more exhausting than the work itself.[29]

Research has been mounting that establishes a link between the sprawl of our living spaces and the rise of obesity, blood sugar, blood pressure, body weight, and metabolic risks—even a rise in divorce.[30] In the burbs, even the fairly useless grass is imported, fertilized, doused with herbicides, and protected by neighborhood landscaping codes in many places.

When one’s kids are young, living outside the city might feel safer, but when one’s parents get older, suburbia can become a prison, because older folks need to be driven everywhere and looked after. It may turn out that staying in the burbs will be less healthy or safe and provide less opportunity for independence.

A disturbing trend is the demise of the mainstay sport of suburbia: golf. More than eight hundred courses have closed their clubhouse doors in the past decade. The Sports and Fitness Industry Association claims that millennials between the ages of eighteen and thirty agree with Mark Twain, who supposedly said that golf is a good walk ruined, or they just can’t afford the previous generation’s country club lifestyle.[31]

In high-density cities you can walk just about everywhere. City residents now prefer to drive a mile or two instead of ten or twenty, and they own one car instead of two. The mantra “Location, location, location” is being replaced by “Access, access, access.” Cities are starting to go country as they value walking and biking, green surroundings, contact with cultural interests, and living within their means. Urban planners are taking notice all over the country. It may seem counterintuitive, but in denser cities ten times more tax money per acre is generated than by their country cousins.[32]

Urban Sprawl

Like middle-age spread, urban bottoming-out is due to poor planning, overexploitation of resources, greed building over green building, poor public transportation, and overreliance on cars.

City populations have suffered from a concentration of inequalities, including poor housing, low-quality education, unemployment, and difficulty or inability to access certain public services, such as health care, welfare, and green spaces, in addition to the decay of high-density neighborhoods into ghettos.

Making cities green and healthy for everyone goes far beyond simply reducing greenhouse gases and planting turf or a tree here and there. A holistic and healthy approach to the environment and resources has to be adopted. For example, suburban redevelopment and rapid transit in Atlanta were planned around downtown areas, including twenty-two miles of parks and developments, in a loop around—not through—city neighborhoods.[33]

According to John Wilmoth, director of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, “Managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. Our success or failure in building sustainable cities will be a major factor in the success of a United Nations development agenda.”[34] Neighborhoods have to be inclusive and open, protected by proactive choices, making funding more equitable and ensuring that no neighborhood is forgotten in urban planning.

Going Up/Vertical Sprawl

In New York City the record-breaking 432 Park Avenue is taking housing to new heights—1,396 feet to be exact, standing as the tallest residential building in the world and the second-tallest building in New York City.[35] It’s also taking shots from detractors who are saying that it’s too skinny and too rich. In fact, it has come to light that many of the most luxurious residential projects are also conspicuous consumers of energy and that they create a chasm of lost sunlight in the “street canyons” below.

Many people are suggesting that urban building and zoning codes have to be changed or at least relaxed. Some urban planners want to bring back a disappearing concept called “the missing middle,” complexes of small condos or individual units with shared outdoor space. It’s the happy medium between a single-family, detached home and a ten-plus–unit apartment. Think of them as more practical urban models of tiny homes, which are becoming chic for some folks but unrealistic for a lot of lifestyles and city codes.

City planners, designers, and forward-looking thinkers are pushing the limits of creative thinking to envision future cities of all types. From super-skyscrapers soaring many thousands of feet upward, cities floating on or under water, burrowing underground, in orbit, or creating skylines on other planets—the only limit is imagination. Cities of the future will include

floating sea cities

high-rise or rooftop farms

3D-printed homes

buildings with their own microclimates

huge bridges that span entire cities

spaceports with easy access to the moon and Mars

superhigh buildings

underwater and underground cities

collapsible and stackable living pods[36]

Getting Around

Getting around in the United States is becoming a huge hassle. Our roads, highways, and bridges are desperately in need of repair. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives the United States a D for its roads and a C for its bridges—which is generous grading.[37] The US Department of Transportation estimates that almost $1 trillion is needed to revamp the current interstate and highway system in the country.[38] Unfortunately, there won’t be many highways improved or bridges repaired because we can’t afford to maintain what we already have. And research shows that reducing highway congestion by adding more lanes—a phenomenon called “induced demand”—is counterproductive as it ultimately just adds more wheels on the pavement.

“Traffic jams are getting worse, queues longer and transport networks more prone to delays, power outages more common.” The United States is a backward country when it comes to passenger trains. As anyone who has visited Europe, Japan, or Shanghai knows, trains that travel at 200+ mph have become everyday modes of transportation.[39]

It’s time we design a future where driverless cars, aerodrones, and new-age subways zip around, under, or over skyscrapers, and vertical gardens are in hyperconnected, energy-efficient “smart cities.” The alternative is being trapped in endless traffic jams while infrastructure crumbles and pollution overwhelms the remaining declining green spaces.


Several cities are starting to ban one of our most cherished personal possessions—the car. And it may be one of the safest and healthiest things to do. In 1900 nobody was killed by cars in the United States because they were few and far between. Just twenty years later, as Peter Norton, a professor at the University of Virginia, wrote in his book Fighting Traffic, more than two hundred thousand people were killed by cars. In 1925 alone, cars killed about six thousand children.[40] And with small, self-driving electric vehicles (EVs), skyports, drone delivery service, and mass transit, there will be less need for autos and trucks, parking, driveways, and pavement and more room for playgrounds, parks, and housing. Cities have become far too car-centric; autos and trucks are far too much a part of people’s lifestyle; and vehicles make city walking more like a bullfight than a stroll. The car, Norton points out, is the lowest-density means of transportation—and most expensive mode of transportation. In the United States more than 90 percent of all trips were taken by car; too few people are moved in a single vehicle and too much fossil fuel is used moving them.[41]

Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the country to make safer walking environments, and in 2011 the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center announced the selection of eleven Walk Friendly Communities across the country.[42] Cities such as Los Angeles (no kidding) and Seattle aim to reduce parking spaces and convert some roads and bridges for use by pedestrians and bikes. A good model for them may be Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain—a tree-lined thoroughfare.

The Difference Between a Megacity and

a Supercity

A megacity generally has a population of around ten million. In the future, supercities might top out at one hundred million or more.[43] It’s been estimated that by 2100 we can anticipate cities of 140 million people—picture Tokyo, Mexico City, New York, São Paulo, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Shanghai all rolled into one.[44]

A supercity can be humankind’s dream place. It is a self-contained, quality living organism where there is enough affordable housing that is close to healthy outdoors experiences; the air is refreshing; the water is pure; energy is clean, ample, and inexpensive; food is grown, raised, or produced within one hundred miles of the consumer; building materials are recycled sustainable, and green; transportation is easy and affordable; and all the necessities and luxuries of life are nearby and do not require an oil tycoon’s bank account.

The problems and challenges supercities will face include the issues of carbon-neutral environments, how to control urban sprawl and traffic congestion, how to solve the predicament of the homeless, and how to organize, be administered, and be operated sustainably. Adoption of widescale use of renewable energy will be embraced, waste management will become a major industry, and biodiversity will enhance the natural environment. Green transport systems, innovative materials, and construction methods will be utilized; and a diverse population will enjoy a healthy outdoor environment. Some of these enhancements are already being applied or experimented with today, and some are in various stages of planning for use tomorrow.

As more people flood cities, straining already bulging budgets, stretching resources, and staggering city services, some suggestions and solutions will sound reasonable and practical, while others will be the stuff of both science and fiction.

Chrysalis Cities

San Francisco and Manhattan are good examples of city price-out and bound-up boundaries—they have no room to build, save straight up. Following the collapse of the housing market in 2007, the median price of a home was around $700,000 in San Francisco, compared to today’s whopping $1.25 million plus, and some rents increased in 88 percent of the nation’s biggest cities.[45] When a city begins to run out of horizontal space, it only has a few choices—go vertical, go radical, or go to hell.

Middle-class employees such as teachers, office workers, city workers, and retail workers have been priced out of cities. And don’t look to the suburbs for relief—they are bursting their borders too. In places where there were pasturelands a couple of years ago, there are now hundreds of houses, condos, and apartment buildings. And the cost, whether buying or renting, is an unbelievable and unrelenting upward arrow, creating a population of “haves”—and saying to hell with the “have-nots.”

The “Green” Footprint

Creating or maintaining a city’s “greenprint” is a tough goal while controlling a rapidly expanding city. And while managing sustainable energy, water, and waste, as well as fostering sensible growth, leaders must keep a green city economically viable and sustainable for the long haul.

Cities of the future will strive to be carbon-neutral—that means they will run entirely on renewable energy, with little or no carbon footprint. Masdar, in Abu Dhabi, might be the first carbon-neutral city in the world, which is ironic since it is being built through the sale of the country’s rich oil reserves. At present no carbon-free cities are being planned in the United States.[46]

As we move farther away from the natural world, contact with it becomes more valuable: Urban designers now recognize that access to green space is an important part of people’s quality of life. From New York to Singapore, the world’s great cities are now placing heightened importance on new and existing green spaces with sustainable urban planning, with the hope of protecting their futures, for both physiological and psychological well-being.[47]

Very Smart Stuff

The answer to the question of how smart building can be may lie with big data and the so-called internet of things (IoT), where objects previously dumb are made smart by being connected to one other. One way to accomplish this is to plant sensors throughout a city’s lands (or in its buildings) to make up a city dashboard, which takes the pulse of the city. This will allow multiple systems to be joined and ultimately work more efficiently to monitor everything from energy use to water and waste, city temperature, traffic patterns, and security. When systems do not “talk” to one another, they operate in isolation, and facility staff are unable to get a holistic view of building performance. This is one of the reasons why building energy management systems (BEMS) emerged to integrate a multitude of disparate systems and functions.[48]

There are those who will loudly howl or silently grumble that this is nothing less than a precursor to Brave New World, or 1984, where “Big Brother” is looking over, under, and around your shoulder. This is partly true. But it is a compromise of privacy in exchange for safety. (See chapter 8, “Getting Somewhere from Someplace.”)

Energy That Keeps On Giving—Without Leaving a Mess

Fossil fuels still represent over 80 percent of total energy supplies in the world today.[49] But extensive use of alternative energy sources will allow cities to eventually achieve carbon neutrality. And with the advent of modular smaller grids, not only will power outages be eliminated but an excess of energy will also be left, to be saved or shared on other small electrical grids, which can be connected to larger county, state, or national grids to help create, save, and distribute energy where it might be needed.

Net Zero

One of the first options that should be considered is establishing net zero carbon dioxide–clean cities. Only a couple of these are being built in the world today, and none is being planned in the United States.

California’s Energy Commission unanimously passed a law mandating that all new residential buildings up to three stories tall must be equipped with solar panels by 2020, making California the first state in the nation to mandate access to solar in virtually every new home. In addition, the new provisions include a push to increase battery storage and reliance on electricity over natural gas. This is seen as a key measure to decarbonize the building sector—an area that, when electricity use is factored in, represents the second-largest source of greenhouse gases in the state. The rule will likely eclipse the state’s current energy-efficiency goal, approved in 2007, requiring all new homes to be zero net energy users by 2020, which regulators now say is not enough to offset a building’s use of fossil fuel–derived electricity at night.[50]

Battery storage in homes and businesses (and electric cars) will eventually serve as a giant electricity bank for renewable resources. In this scenario, known as “partial grid defection,” homeowners would generate and store 80 to 90 percent of their electricity on-site and use the grid only as a backup—transforming buildings into small power plants and minigrids.[51] (See chapter 9, “Priorities for Power.”)

Water, Water from Everywhere

Water, thankfully, will probably not be an issue in the future. We get water from lakes, rivers, and underground sources such as aquifers. These, along with water saved in cisterns, water desalinized from oceans, and water treated from toilets to tap, are being used for drinking water. This will be accomplished by using state-of-the-art treatment technologies powered by solar energy. Potable water will be stored, ready to use in buildings. Used water will be cleaned and filtered underground via something much like mini–electrical grids, in cisterns or aquifers, where the water will be stored and ready to be used again and again.

Comestibles for the City

Concerns that are already being addressed in some cities are the food deserts (where there are fewer places to get fresh and healthy groceries but where there are plenty of fast food and liquor stores) and the rising demand for fresh food from farm to fork. One of the solutions is “vertical farming,” or “agri-tecture,” which is based on farming that grows upward, around, in, or on buildings and can produce more than enough for residents. Today’s largest vertical farm is located in Michigan and is home to seventeen million plants.[52] Other types of soilless farming include hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics, which produce fruits and vegetables, fish, and ducks simultaneously. (See chapter 10, “Provisioning the Populace.”)

Ultramodern Materials and

Changing Construction

As governments look for ways to adopt green construction codes, they will put more pressure on the construction industry to change the way buildings are designed, constructed, operated, and dissembled. Bleeding-edge materials, innovative uses of old materials, and various applications for recycled materials are nothing short of mind-stretching.

Thanks to recent advances in robotics, computing, and other technologies, a growing number of scientists and engineers think robot-made housing might finally be possible soon. Robotic construction will increase the speed of construction, improve its quality, and lower its price. (See chapter 7, “Bleeding-Edge Building Supplies.”)

Vacant and Abandoned: A New

Urban Renaissance

Buildings that are abandoned and that have physically deteriorated are another vexing problem that older cities face and a plague in all parts of the country. As a quarter of Detroit’s population drained out of the city from 2000 to 2010, tens of thousands of buildings became hazards instead of homes.[53] A survey examining vacant land and abandoned structures in seventy cities found that on average, 15 percent of a city’s land was deemed vacant.[54] For a city with a rapidly growing population but fixed boundaries, vacant land and deserted buildings can represent a key competitive asset for economic development. They can create various kinds of jobs, increase tax revenue, improve infrastructure, and attract new residents, merchants, and money for improvement.[55] They can be reclaimed as opportunities for productive reuse, as solar farms, urban farms, community gardens, open land, general reclamation, and distribution centers for the future dwellers of metro centers.

Plans for reclaiming, stabilizing, and revitalizing neighborhoods will not only stimulate economic recovery and growth but will also help to eliminate a growing problem—arson. The US Fire Administration estimates that there are more than twenty-eight thousand fires annually in vacant residences and that 37 percent of these fires were intentionally set, resulting in $900 million in property damage and numerous deaths and injuries each year.[56]

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Transportation (DOT), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and several other agencies have made available hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to support the planning and implementation of projects to promote sustainable communities.[57] Federal and state grants for historic buildings have also helped finance these efforts. Investment funding is available for a variety of uses, including community planning, affordable housing, technical assistance, and capital infrastructure. To help navigate the complex maze of opportunities Reconnecting America has compiled a list of all upcoming programs and deadlines.[58]

Winning the Weather

In a smartly controlled building, comfort zones will be monitored by computers that will offer middle-of-the-road temperatures, or something like a constant humidity-controlled 72 to 78°F, depending on weather and, in living spaces, on one’s age and gender.

A recent report by Christian Aid indicates that more than a billion people in coastal cities will be vulnerable to severe flooding and extreme weather due to climate change by 2070.[59]

The architecture group Terreform One adopts a counterintuitive but practical approach in its Governors Hook project in New York. Instead of keeping water out, the design allows the water in, to be stored or moved by many methods, from permeable pavement to redirection to building up. Many architects suggest preventing a siege mentality that would require people to fight a losing battle with the elements.[60]

A Choice of Habitats/A Change of Habitat

The choices of where and how to live in the future will make the science fiction of yesterday morph into the facts of tomorrow. Imagine urban visions on the horizon of the future: living as a terrestrial on or under the earth, as an aquarian on or under water, as a citizen of the sky in massive skyscrapers, or as a space colonist in orbit or on other planets.

We can also do what ancients couldn’t do with their cities—pick them up and move them. With developments in the assembling of buildings through drones, nanotechnology-enhanced materials, and industrial 3D printing, dissembling and deploying cities elsewhere could be accomplished with good planning. In fact, houses are currently being designed that can be moved by boat or dirigible.

Then again, one dystopian outcome is that cities will simply continue as they are or become deserted. The costs of change may result in some areas simply being sacrificed and abandoned. Unfortunately, the same may be true for people.

1. William E. Rees, “Building More Sustainable Cities,” Scientific American, March 1, 2009,

2. Jeff Desjardins, “Animation: The World’s Largest Megacities by 2100,” Visual Capitalist, July 16, 2018,

3. “America Moves to the City,” Khan Academy,

4. Wikipedia, s.v. “1860 United States Census,” last modified March 8, 2019, 2:22,

5. “Chapter 25: America Moves to the City, 1865–1900,” CourseNotes,

6. Wikipedia, s. v. “Urbanization in the United States,” last modified July 25, 2019, 13:58,

7. “Rise of Industrial America, 1876–1900: City Life in the Late 19th Century,” American Memory Timeline, Library of Congress,

8. Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist (New York: HarperCollins, 2010).

9., “1800–1990: Changes in Urban/Rural U.S. Population,”

10. Med Amine Bensefia and Abdelhafidh Benmansour, “The Ambiguity of the American Dream and the Shift to Hollywood Dream” (master’s thesis, Abou Bakr Belkaild University, Tlemcen, 2014–2015),

11. Wikipedia, s.v. “Mortgage Discrimination,” last modified August 1, 2019, 22:42,

12. Nikole Hannah-Jones, “Living Apart: How the Government Betrayed a Landmark Civil Rights Law,” ProPublica, last modified July 8, 2015,

13. Rachel Becker, “World Population Expected to Reach 9.7 Billion by 2050,” National Geographic, July 31, 2015,

14. John Vidal, “The 100 Million City: Is 21st Century Urbanisation Out of Control?” The Guardian, last modified April 13, 2018,; Wikipedia. s.v. “Projections of Population Growth,” last modified August 16, 2019, 17:11,

15. Edith M. Lederer, “UN Report: By 2030 Two-Thirds of World Will Live in Cities,” AP News, May 18, 2016,

16. “U.S. Cities Are Home to 62.7 Percent of the U.S. Population, but Comprise Just 3.5 Percent of Land Area,” US Census Bureau, March 4, 2015,

17. Nate Berg, “U.S. Urban Population Is Up . . . but What Does ‘Urban’ Really Mean?” CityLab, March 26, 2012,

18. Mark Swilling, “The Curse of Urban Sprawl: How Cities Grow, and Why This Has to Change,” The Guardian, July 12, 2016,

19. Deirdre Pfeiffer, Genevieve Pearthree, and Meagan Ehlenz, “Efforts to Attract Millennials Are Reshaping Downtown Areas,” Government Technology, January 18, 2018,

20. Lyman Stone, “American Women Are Having Fewer Children Than They’d Like,” New York Times, February 13, 2018,

21. Sommer Mathis, “Of Course the Suburbs Aren’t Dying—They’re Not All the Same,” CityLab, January 23, 2015,

22. Mathis, “Of Course the Suburbs Aren’t Dying.”

23. Madeline Stone, “Why McMansions Were Doomed Investments from the Start,” Business Insider, September 10, 2016,

24. New Hampshire Public Radio, “Are American Suburbs Dying?” Here and Now, March 7, 2017,

25. Rent Editorial Team, “Millennial Generation Choosing to Rent,” Rent (blog), May 14, 2015,

26. Neale Godfrey, “The Young and the Restless: Millennials on the Move,” Forbes, October 2, 2016,

27. Megan Gorman, “The Conversation Gen Xers Must Have with Their Boomer Parents,” Forbes, April 30, 2019,

28. Denise Mann, “6 Signs Your Commute Is Making You Sick—And What to Do About It,” Reader’s Digest,

29. Marlynn Wei, “Commuting: ‘The Stress That Doesn’t Pay,’” Psychology Today, January 12, 2015,

30. Annette Schaefer, “Commuting Takes Its Toll,” Scientific American, October 1, 2005,

31. Matt Powell, “Sneakernomics: How Golf Lost the Millennials,” NPD (blog), February 23, 2017,

32. Emily Badger, “Quantifying the Cost of Sprawl,” CityLab, May 21, 2013,

33. “Atlanta BeltLine Overview: The Atlanta Beltline in 5,” Atlanta BeltLine,

34. United Nations, “World’s Population Increasingly Urban with More Than Half Living in Urban Areas,” July 10, 2014,

35. Ondel Hylton, “432 Park in Numbers: New Renderings and Superlatives Will Blow You Away,” 6SQFT, November 11, 2015,

36. Jonathan O’Callaghan, “Welcome to the Cities of the Future: ‘Impossible Engineering’ Predicts Cows on Skyscrapers, 3D Printed Homes and Underwater Arenas in the Next 100 Years,” Daily Mail Online, May 25, 2015,

37. Benjamin Preston, “America’s Infrastructure Still Rates No Better Than D+, Engineering Experts Say,” The Guardian, March 9, 2017,

38. Cadie Thompson, “There’s a $1 Trillion Crisis Threatening the American Way of Life as We Know It,” Business Insider, March 6, 2017,

39. Cynthia Drescher, “The 10 Fastest Trains in the World,” Conde Nast Traveler, March 27, 2018,

40. Enrique Penalosa, “This Is What the Cities of the Future Will Look Like,” HuffPost, May 8, 2016,

41. Penalosa, “This Is What the Cities of the Future Will Look Like.”

42. Kaid Benfield, “Pedestrian Perfection: The 11 Most Walk-Friendly U.S. Cities,” May 4, 2011, The Atlantic,

43. O’Callaghan, “Welcome to the Cities of the Future.”

44. “How the World Will Look in the Future before Apocalypse,” Religion (blog), November 5, 2013,

45. Laura Schier, “Queens Experiences Highest Rent Increase in the Country,” Elegran (blog), August 7, 2018,

46. Don Willmott, “Building the World’s First Carbon-Neutral City,” Smithsonian, September 22, 2014,

47. Alan Davis, “Do You Have Any Idea How Much Green Spaces in Cities Are Actually Worth?” AlterNet, February 27, 2018,

48. “Get Connected: Smart Buildings and the Internet of Things,” Facility Executive, May 28, 2019,

49. Mark J. Perry, “Fossil Fuels Will Continue to Supply >80% of US Energy through 2040, While Renewables Will Play Only a Minor Role,” Carpe Diem (blog), AEI, December 16, 2013,

50. Bill Chappell, “California Gives Final OK to Require Solar Panels on New Houses,” NPR, December 6, 2018 ,

51. Michael J. Coren, “There Is a Point at Which It Will Make Economic Sense to Defect from the Electrical Grid,” Quartz, June 29, 2017,

52. Paul Marks, “Vertical Farms Sprouting All over the World,” New Scientist, January 15, 2014,

53. “Detroit: A City in Decline—in Pictures,” The Guardian, July 19, 2013,

54. Ann O’M. Bowman and Michael A. Pagano, “Vacant Land in Cities: An Urban Resource,” Brookings, January 1, 2001,

55. “Vacant and Abandoned Properties: Turning Liabilities into Assets,” Evidence Matters (Winter 2014),

56. “Vacant and Abandoned Properties.”

57. Bowman and Pagano, “Vacant Land in Cities.”

58. “Federal Grant Opportunities,” Reconnecting America,

59. Will Worley, “Climate Change: Flooding Caused by Global Warming to Put One Billion at Risk by 2060, Charity Warns,” The Independent, May 16, 2016,

60. “Sci-Fi Cities & Mega Cities of the Future, as Imagined or Not?” Citi IO, May 30, 2016,

Chapter 2

Habitats for Inhabitants

Home Is Where the Heart, Hearth, and Habitat Are

As cities grow and lifestyles change, the homes we decide to live in will change as well. In fact, we are already starting to see unique housing alternatives. Sometime in the very near future, we will see not only “smart” single homes but also superstructures that may encompass a dozen blocks or more. New forms and choices of housing, from the far-out to the hands-on, from movable homes to exotic homes in strange surroundings, will come in a plethora of shapes, sizes, and places.

Sixty years ago there were only two “megacities,” urban centers with populations of more than ten million people: New York/Newark and Tokyo. Today there are thirty-three, although this number is expected to rise possibly to fifty-three by 2030, mostly in developing countries. In 1990 there were just ten megacities worldwide. At present there are about four hundred million people in megacities worldwide. And the future populations of megacities are projected to be

900 million in 2050

about 1.1 billion in 2060

about 2.1 billion in 2100[1]

All over the world, new metropolises are being built, offering a snapshot of what our future will be like. At present the US megacities are Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and the metropolitan area of Washington-Baltimore. It is anticipated that by 2050 Asia will have thirty megacities, and Atlanta, Miami, Phoenix, and Riverside-San Bernardino could pass the threshold by 2060.[2]

By 2050 some will be monster megacities of thirty to one hundred million. Figuring out where and how to house their denizens will take a humungous amount of work wrapped around heaps of options. A central theme is to plan to make homes cost- and energy-efficient, sustainable, and very comfortable—some might even say perhaps too comfortable, as housing accessories, robots, and apps may put an end to the toil of household chores.

Silicon Valley, the jewel in Santa Clara County, is a suburban enclave that has some of the most expensive real estate in the country as a result of tech companies making the area their corporate home. Unfortunately, the once sleepy community has become one of the toughest places to find affordable housing due to the influx of techies and well-to-do money.

Google and Facebook, two of the many companies that have inadvertently caused the housing shortage, are now—with the partnership of local politicians—doing something about it, perhaps as a precursor of the future, and they have led the way in a series of new proposals from big business seeking answers to the problems of cramped housing. More than one thousand potential additional units were approved by the city in which Google is located.[3] Hopefully this will be a hallmark of big business and community needs.

Google will invest $1 billion toward efforts to develop at least fifteen thousand new homes in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Across the region, one issue stands out as particularly urgent and complex: housing,” CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post. “As Google grows throughout the Bay Area—whether it’s in our hometown of Mountain View, in San Francisco, or in our future developments in San Jose and Sunnyvale—we’ve invested in developing housing that meets the needs of these communities. But there’s more to do.”[4]

The Future Inside

The new future home will be not only smart but also intuitive; all the devices and appliances will be connected by software and the internet of things (IoT), and interaction will come from a robot loaded with an artificial intelligence (AI), a Siri-like device that will take care of and anticipate most of people’s needs.

As soon as you say something like “I’m out of laundry detergent” or “Do I have a clean shirt?” it will be picked up by a discretely placed microphone and trigger software to transcribe your words into a to-do list or into a command that will take appropriate action.

New research has found that 68 percent of people think their bathroom is old-fashioned and would like to see new innovations in this room of the home in the next ten years.[5] Some bathroom innovations on the horizon are included below.

Auto Body

A body analysis scale in a bathmat will not only track weight but also analyze your body fat percentage and body mass index while taking your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and thermometer readings from any number of trackers. These may be in the form of a wrist monitor, glove, body wrap, underwear, electronic tongue depressor, finger pinch monitor, among other utilities.[6]

All readings will be fed into a health app along with other data about your level of activity, nutrition, and sleep patterns to give a basic picture of your health, note any anomalies, and make basic health recommendations. This information can be relayed to a doctor or other health practitioner that can provide follow-up.[7]

Smart Mouth

Your smart toothbrush will connect sensors in the brush head to a health app, to give you real-time feedback on your brushing technique and tell you when to change your brush. Smart sensors will track everything from areas missed to whether you’re brushing too hard; they will assess your gums and suggest changes that need to take place. They will also track tongue cleaning and oral health, and, since 80 percent of bad breath comes from odor-producing bacteria on the tongue, they will measure bacterial by-products in the mouth. The app then records the information, offers advice, and can send the results to your dentist.[8]

Toilet Training

Everything that goes into your body will be analyzed when it comes out, from its nutritional content to its caloric value. This will offer a complete picture of how well the body is functioning and how well you are living. An automatic urine or stool test will provide early warnings about urinary tract infections, pregnancy, and markers for types of cancer and other diseases.[9]

Vigilant for Viruses

Indoor air can be from ten to one hundred times worse than the air outdoors. Air purifiers equipped with professional grade sensors can monitor the levels of particles in the air. An air purifier can be set to check for allergens and filter out up to 99.9 percent of airborne viruses and bacteria that are 2,500 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.[10]

Sampling Sleep Patterns

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing and often resulting in snoring, broken sleep, and—at worst—asphyxia (a condition arising when the body is deprived of oxygen, causing unconsciousness or death; suffocation). Sensors will monitor sleep patterns and sounds and note abnormalities.[11]

Baby Watch

The latest technologies for babies’ health will include connecting a smart baby monitor and ear thermometer to a mobile phone app that helps identify all manner of health matters, recording results for later examination. Babies’ poop can be analyzed by automatic diaper or commode swabs. Results can be fed to a doctor’s office. (This can also be used for adults.)[12]

Sensing Falls

If you’ve fallen and you can’t get up, a help button pendant will sense it and activate a GPS locator and two-way communication with a helpline via a speakerphone that is automatically turned on and dialed by AI anywhere in the home. Movement sensors around the home will track all activity and behavior in general in the house. Smart analytics will identify each individual in the house and notice and record any abnormal behavior. Automatic phone or video calls can notify caregivers, physicians, or relatives. Of course, for those who are anxious about their personal privacy, the sensors and the personal information they store can be deactivated.[13]

Remembering Meds

Half of all medication for chronic illness is not taken as prescribed, especially by the elderly, often because of absentmindedness or dementia. So a smart medicine dispenser can issue reminders, via a watch, phone, TV, or in-house intercom device, to a patient and/or a caregiver when it’s time to take meds. It can also calculate how many have been taken and share this information with the in-house medical app and a doctor, relative, or caregiver.[14]

Mirror, Mirror—and Apps

A look into the bathroom mirror will trigger a mini–health check and use facial recognition technology to pick up subtle cues about your health and mental state. It may advise you on what skin care regimen to use on a given day, based on your appearance.

Family Carebots

It is becoming increasingly important to devise ways of ensuring that the elderly, ill, and disabled can live safely and independently for as long as possible. One of their biggest issues is often lack of mobility—being unable to get out of bed, move around, take care of errands as well as themselves.

For such situations will be carebots, which are designed to provide assistance. They can range from life-size humanoid bots that can take blood samples and analyze them, lift patients, or help them walk; furniture that transforms from a bed to a wheelchair; and mobile servants that can fetch and carry things from one room to another and have the ability to monitor and notice the abnormal and communicate to various contact people.

There are hopes that robots will make aged-care jobs less demanding and help senior citizens maintain a longer independent life in their own home, assist caregivers at home or in a nursing home, or provide company to the lonely.[15]

Resourceful Refrigerators

Your kitchen app will take orders for beverages and foods from the pantry or refrigerator and can survey contents and make menus for days or weeks in advance. Miniaturized technology will allow the scanning of almost anything to find out its molecular composition and, in the case of fruits and veggies, check for ripeness. The smart fridge will be programmed to sense what kinds of products are being stored, keep track of what’s been used, make comments about whether you’re drinking too much beer or consuming too many carbs, order anything that is running low, and suggest nutritionally balanced meals; it will also sync perfectly with your levels of activity and weight-loss goals.[16]

Screen Tests

How about a TV that blends into the wall? That’s the promise of a new generation of TVs. Samsung’s Smart Things app, for example, allows you to take a picture of the wall using your phone camera, sends it to your TV, and reproduces your wall right on the screen. You can color-correct the image manually, but most of the process is automatic. Even when it is turned off, the TV displays the image of the wall. Also when off, the TV can still display news headlines, weather reports, and even traffic, or just show the time and date. Custom art is also included and can be matched to the background.[17]

Waving your arms at a gadget will turn electronic devices on and off, which might be “too smart” in an overly melodramatic or energetic household. Entertainment systems of the future will be able to plug into your moods—based on the number of hours that you spend watching TV or listening to music, how your choices affect your emotional vibe, and how you seem to want to feel when choosing a TV program, movie, or music. All can be tracked, remembered, and analyzed. Sensitive sensors will turn off a device if there is no one in the room for a period of time.[18]

Smarter Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors can alert you about dangerous levels of certain gases, but the newest technologies can let you know exactly where and when a problem exists and notify you about a fire, pollen levels, coming weather conditions, and indoor and outdoor air pollution so you can be sure to take appropriate actions.[19]

Let There Be Natural Light

Modern paints and materials will enhance natural light and reduce the energy needed for lighting in the home. Light for particular times of the day will be programmed and automatically regulated. Less energy used means lower greenhouse gas emissions, greater fossil fuel conservation, less waste produced, and a lowered utility bill. Smart window coverings and thermostats will complete the picture.[20]

A Biofuel Duo

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted at home will be used to feed microalgae, producing biofuel that in turn will be used to generate heat and power. The CO2 produced from the heat and power generation will be once again used for biofuel production in a closed loop.[21]

Nanobot Waste Watchers and Underground Collection

Liquid and solid waste material will be treated to break the matter down into its chemical properties for fuel or fertilizer. Consequently, it will be possible to recycle endlessly and re-create any type of material. Products for recycling will be sorted by microscopic nanobots that separate mixtures of materials into categories based on their size, shape, color and on their physical and chemical properties. This will be especially useful for colonies in outer space.[22]

Municipal waste will be collected via a pneumatic network separating and transferring the waste flow in underground tubes to treatment facilities in a 24/7 service, reducing the presence and pollution of vehicles that collect garbage in the city. Customer will be billed via an RFID (radio frequency identification) sensor by weight or material.[23] Multiple bins will be replaced by pods integrated underground. The pods will then drive waste via tubes to a treatment facility.[24]

The Future Outside

One example of really going urban green is a project in Singapore comprised of four towers, all connected by what’s called the “heart center,” an area filled with thousands of plants, trees, and even a waterfall. There are also sky bridges and terraces decked out in greenery, for a total of 160,000 plants helping reduce heat (by transpiration, reflecting sunlight, and creating shade) and improve air quality while reducing the amount of CO2 on the island.[25]

The development is LEED-certified. (“LEED” stands for “leadership in energy and environmental design.”) LEED certifies designs and structures that reduce CO2 emissions and water and electricity consumption, and reinforce resource sustainability for buildings. It has four levels: certified, silver, gold, and platinum.[26]


The garden will also experience a fusion of tradition and technology for plant lovers—multisensor gadgets will keep tabs on everything from water content and soil acidity to temperature, fertilizer, and ripeness, in the case of fruits or veggies. Meanwhile, robot mowers and pruners will keep the landscape neatly trimmed, and digital art will allow the stylization of the garden with beautiful and changeable holographic statues, colors, and sound scopes.[27]

Microchips and remote controls are becoming as popular in the garden as they are in the kitchen, den, or even the office. We knew it was only a matter of time and that time is now. Smart-thinking landscape architects are reducing their environmental impact via water conservation, solar technology, kinetic energy, and drought-tolerant planting—at the same time creating charming designs.[28]

Accommodating Accommodations

New technologies in building and materials will allow construction of previously unheard-of geometric complexity. Design trends will become more free-form and organic. New shapes and new combinations of materials will allow for entirely new building aesthetics and larger structures.

Finally, cost will be cut by robots handling heavy and dangerous work, inexpensive prefab building components, and the use of existing material (like dirt and clean refuse), all of which will afford architects more creative leeway.

Prefab components are also environmentally friendly, as they reduce material waste as well as the number of delivery trips needed to the construction site. In other words, instead of transporting raw materials and basic supplies to the construction site to build a structure from scratch, most of the structure is prebuilt in a centralized factory and then shipped to the construction site to simply be assembled.[29]

Along with techno-changes, adjustments will have to be made in long-standing and out-of-date zoning and building ordinances that have often impeded development and innovation. If urban areas are going to attract developers, then city planners must recognize the need to overhaul outdated policies concerning land use and built environments. Cities need to consider a range of innovative and aggressive polices to lure new money and make room for more people.

The dream of universal affordable housing has been an idea tried and tested by architects throughout history, from Bucky Fuller’s wacky Dymaxion House,[30] to mail-order homes assembled like do-it-yourself furniture. This isn’t to say that poverty, ghettos, and disadvantages won’t be part of the landscape, but we will have the technology and, hopefully, the will to begin removing those roadblocks.

Some of the promises of 3D printing—one example is “Contour Crafting Technology”—is the capacity for building multiple homes quickly, creating less waste than conventional construction methods, and the use of robotics for labor. Of course, that’s bad news for the people in the construction industry who will suffer the loss of thousands of jobs.[31]

With any luck, owning a home will no longer command the sizable investments of generations past when younger buyers were priced out of the housing market. On the other hand, a glut of new housing will begin lowering housing prices, negatively impacting current homeowners who are depending on the stable or rising equity of their homes for retirement or the ability to move on up.[32]

Chic Choices

When it comes to the price of homes, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the majority of the sticker shock comes from the value of the land more than that of the actual structure. An even bigger factor driving the value of land is the demand for housing within a chosen location, which could cause the housing market to boil over.

In the future, a lot of folks will be buying movable micro homes and even small apartments that can be parked, like cars, on small lots. Some even imagine that people will be able to move their houses from city to city with the aid of autonomous and remote-controlled aerodrones. (A remote-controlled vehicle is always controlled by a human. Autonomous devices are aware of their environment and incoming data and have the ability to learn and make decisions on their own. By 2020, an estimated fifty billion of these devices will be connected to the internet.)

Some homes in the future will downsize in terms of square feet, but there will be many more choices available. One example is Ecocapsule, a smart, self-sustainable micro egg-shaped structure that utilizes solar and wind energy for power and a battery for storing energy. Rainwater is collected on the surface and filtered into a water tank. It enables the inhabitant to stay in remote places in comfort and can serve as a cottage, pop-up motel, mobile office, or research station. It’s been engineered to be self-sufficient, practical, and functional. It measures 15.32 feet by 22 feet, is 8.20 high, and weighs about 35,000 pounds with a full tank of water (and filtration system) and incineration toilet. It is made of fiberglass over a steel frame.[33]

Homepod specializes in building energy-efficient homes that the company expects will be popular among new homeowners looking for more efficient, smarter homes with controls for electricity, security, HVAC, and more. The houses range in size from two-bedroom apartments to four-bedroom townhouses.[34]

Tiny houses are becoming a popular alternative as well as a new social movement. People are choosing to downsize, live with less, simplify the space they occupy, and still be comfortable. Tiny houses can be configured for a shared, two-person household or for an extended family. Most range from one hundred to four hundred square feet; among their features are movable partitions, recessed-in-the-wall amenities, and pull-down furniture, which enable transformation of the unit without reconstruction. Countertop and cabinet height may be adjusted manually or mechanically for all customer sizes and physical abilities. There are many no-cost blueprints available online. More and more cities are rethinking lot size regulations to accommodate tiny homes and communities.[35]

One of the most creative models is an experimental, low-cost, micro housing unit made from concrete water pipes approximately eight to twelve feet in diameter, and eight feet wide. The repurposed pipes are designed to accommodate one or two people and come with approximately one hundred square feet of petite living space. The interiors are made up of micro living room furniture with a built-in bed, a minifridge, bathroom, shower, and plenty of storage space for clothes and personal items.[36]

Although these structures are not lightweight, at twenty-two tons they require little in terms of installation costs and are easily stacked. Entire tube communities could be installed in small, unused spaces. Cost varies around $15,000 (not including the cost or use of land).[37]

In its approach, SPACE10 shares goals and methods similar to Wiki House (a generic name for an open-source project for designing and building houses that endeavor to democratize and simplify the construction of sustainable, resource-light dwellings). SPACE10 focuses on something that, while not terribly new, has rarely been explored. Known for simple, well-designed, flat-pack furniture, IKEA is proposing expanding their DIY model to a much larger scale: entire city centers with square boxes shaped and stacked on one another.[38] The result is low-cost, adaptable, and sustainable housing that could be manufactured locally. It’s a 527-square-foot micro house built using only a milling machine and plywood certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), with a total cost of around $206 per foot.[39]

The ALPOD is a sleek, rectangular 42.6-by-10.8-foot mobile home (about 480 square feet of living space) made of insulating blocks and wooden panels with an aluminum sheath, with thermal insulation, solar power, and a built-in kitchen and bathroom.[40]

The Pop-Up House is low-cost, recyclable, passively heated, and has all of the qualities of tomorrow’s homes. The prefab structure snaps together like LEGO bricks in a few days. Robotic labor may increase the speed of this construction, improve its quality, and lower its price.[41]

A “digital construction platform” is another mode of 3D autonomous printing that boosts efficiency and building strength; it only puts material down where it’s needed, and it’s safer, faster, and more precise than manual construction methods.[42]

We will also see more and more apartments in cities that have converted parking garages and repurposed other buildings to living spaces comparable to tiny houses. Some of these retrofitted garages have a community feel with amenities that urban folks find attractive and ven­ues for theater, dining, and other cultural activities desired by those who want to live, work, and play in the heart of the city.

Hands-On DIY

Do-it-yourself (DIY) projects (like the Wiki House) are being developed by architects, designers, engineers, inventors, manufacturers, and builders, collaborating to develop the best, simplest, most sustainable, highest-performance building technologies that anyone can use and even improve upon.[43]

The developer’s aim is to offer designs to every citizen and business and to make it easier for industries to deal in, invest in, manufacture, and assemble better, more affordable homes in order to grow a new housing industry while reducing dependence on the top-down, debt-heavy mass housing systems of the past.

Fab Prefab

It took only three weeks for a Chinese company to build a fifty-seven-story skyscraper. The construction company reportedly wants to try to build a 2,749-foot skyscraper. The “Mini Sky City” tower is the work of Broad Sustainable Building (BSB), a Chinese firm that specializes in prefabricated construction.

By preparing more than 2,700 modules in a factory for four months before site work began, BSB says it was able to assemble the structure at the rate of three stories per day—like a giant vertical jigsaw pieced together from a minutely detailed set of instructions.[44]

The company already boasts a fifteen-story hotel assembled in six days and a thirty-story hotel in fifteen days, among other achievements. What the Chinese are trying to do is sell buildings worldwide—making them in China and shipping them across the globe.[45]

One of the obvious pros of using modular construction to build affordable prefab housing is that units can be assembled off-site and then quickly stacked into place. It’s another alternative that significantly reduces development time and cost, making it easier to build affordable housing faster and cheaper along with smaller microapartments and multifamily buildings.

There are many prefab houses on the market that are made of various materials from fiberglass to metal and foam over a frame. Even HUD is looking into financing prefab homes for the growing market.[46]

Biomimicry in Buildings

It’s one of the targets of futurist buildings—the use of geometry to assemble and repair structures that will grow and evolve all on their own, like trees, assembling their matter through something like genomic instructions encoded in the material itself. It’s a contemporary philosophy of architecture that seeks solutions for sustainability in nature, not by replicating the natural forms but by understanding the rules governing those forms.[47]

A major problem worldwide is power shortage paired with buildings’ high consumption of energy. As they attempt to resolve this issue, architects are turning to biomimicry, which simulates or co-opts processes that occur in nature, producing, for example, ultrastrong synthetic spider silks, adhesives modeled after gecko feet, and wind-turbine blades that mimic whale fins.

Biomimicry figures in the belief that architecture should reflect the geography and culture of its setting and that architects must discover the most efficient solutions that resemble available natural objects. They might build screen systems on windows that use elasticity, geometry, and thermobimetal properties to open and close in response to sunlight—as flowers do. Inspired by coral reefs, researchers are using bacteria that alter the pH balance of surrounding material in order to allow calcium carbonate to grow and bind the material together with little outside energy and no carbon emissions.[48]

Unused Land and Vacant Buildings

On average, 15 percent of a city’s land is considered vacant; it ranges from undisturbed open space to abandoned, contaminated structures to brownfields.[49] The roots of today’s hypervacancy problem lie in the Great Recession of 2007 and subsequent foreclosure crisis, especially in inner cities.[50]

One of the worst examples of hypervacancy is the 84,641 blighted structures and vacant lots in Detroit, almost half of which should be demolished, which would cost almost $2 billion.[51] These Detroit properties collectively form a space the size of Manhattan, and they’re not alone. Gary, Indiana, has 25,000 vacant homes or lots, covering 40 percent of the city’s parcels, and Philadelphia found 40,000 vacant lots with no known use. Vacant structures in the country number more than twelve million.[52]

Many cities contend that when a structure is abandoned, it presents an “imminent danger” to the community and threatens the city’s “health and safety,” attracting arson, squatting, drug use, and other illegal activities.[53]

Abandonment or vacancy is a sore spot for many communities regardless of size and geographic location. But it also represents a lot of possibilities for use, from inner-city farming to storage to repurposing structures for public housing or community activities—or for soup kitchens for the homeless and hungry, as famed Italian chef Massimo Bottura has done.[54]

Some cities are tearing down and/or transforming homes to create affordable single-family neighborhoods. Other cities with local nonprofits have turned to greening these buildings and lots, creating urban farms, pocket parks, playgrounds, and community gardens.

Design advocates are encouraging redesigning and retrofitting existing buildings rather than building new. Major renovations and retrofits reduce operation costs and environmental impacts and can increase resilience in a neighborhood. An existing building should be looked at in terms of the human labor and material costs that might be saved by renovating it rather than demolishing it and constructing a new building. Retrofitting an existing building can often be more cost-effective than building a new facility.[55]

People want buildings that inspire and delight. Inside buildings and out, designs should try to realize stunning effects and playful forms in order that buildings work in harmony with their surroundings and their residents appreciate their living spaces.

Urb Price Out

A good example of urban price-out is going bicoastal. In San Francisco following the collapse of the housing market in 2007, the median price of a home was around $700,000 compared to a whopping $1.65 million.[56] Manhattan has witnessed a 20 percent raise in rent just since 2016.[57]

Many cities (like New York and San Francisco) have no more space to build. Middle-class employees like teachers and office and city workers have been priced out of the city. And they can’t look to the suburbs for relief—the burbs are bursting at their borders with boarders looking for a break, and the cost of either buying or renting is unbelievable and unrelenting.[58]

Older Homebodies in the Future

As a generation the millennials are hesitant about making babies and buying homes. They are not in a financial position to dive into the current housing market with average listings costing a millionaire’s ransom. The nation’s birthrate is going down and at present, there are more baby boomers and seniors in the suburbs than there are millennials with children, leading in some places to the decay of tax bases.[59] The aging boomers care less about schools and parks than they do about supporting services that they’ll need as they age. The traditional suburbs are in danger of becoming senior burgs.[60]

In response cities are starting to go “country,” providing a lifestyle for people who value walkability, sustainability, green surroundings, and the ability to live within their means. Urban city planners are starting to redesign the landscape so that people can ride their bikes and enjoy nature and space. The property lines of city and country areas are becoming blurred as modern population’s values and bank accounts become modified or completely transformed. Everywhere in these new communities, residents prefer driving a mile or two instead of ten or twenty, and they own one car instead of two.

“Access, access, access” to all the things that make cities great places to live has become at least as important as “location, location, location.”[61]

Metro markets have to deal with changing demands not only for living and working spaces but also for resources—water, energy, air, food, transportation, city services, sustainable building methods and materials, green spaces.

Green Certification Systems

In the future LEED may see heightened competition in new construction ratings from the Green Globes (GG) rating system and possibly from new entrants in specialized niches, such as retail or office interiors. In 2013 and 2014, the federal government put LEED and GG on an equal footing for government projects, lending further legitimacy to GG.[62]

While both LEED (the most widely used green building rating system), and GG (which promotes a sustainable future and a healthy planet by designing homes with green energy solutions) seek basically the same goals and ideals, there are differences. LEED calls for a minimum indoor air-quality performance while GG does not. LEED makes it mandatory that builders have “some documentation of the initial building energy and operational performance through fundamental commissioning.” In the United States LEED is run by the Green Building Initiative (GBI), a nonprofit organization. The LEED rating system frequently requires prerequisites to many of their credits, whereas GG does not require any prerequisites. It should also be noted that GG uses life-cycle assessment and multiple attribute evaluations, whereas LEED does not use them.

The LEED process is also far more stringent than GG in a few areas, but GG is a lot more user-friendly. LEED has minimum standards that must be met in order to begin the certification process and requires detailed documentation for every point pursued.[63]

GG is used to certify a wide variety of building types, including many that cannot be certified through LEED. Examples include recreational centers, transit centers, and parking garages, to name a few. It is increasingly becoming the system of choice for building owners, managers, architects, and engineers who want an alternative that offers the quickest and most understandable way to achieve superior building performance.[64]

The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) is the world’s leading sustainability-assessment method for master planning projects. Its marketing system is used in sixty countries and seems poised to enter the United States.[65]

Other North American systems include the Living Building Challenge and LEED Canada, which competes in existing buildings with the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), which addresses an industry need for realistic standards for energy and the environmental performance of existing buildings based on accurate, independently verified information.[66]

Green Design: Too Much Green?

In a survey of more than seven hundred construction professionals, 80 percent cited “higher first costs” as the biggest obstacle to green building; it’s the most common criticism of sustainable building,[67] despite claims that “LEED buildings cost 25 percent less to operate and enjoy nearly 30 percent higher occupant satisfaction and lower interest rates.”[68] And overall, “the more green building and materials are used, the more the cost will lower.”[69] A 2003 study by the California Sustainable Building Task Force shows that an initial green design investment of just 2 percent will produce savings greater than ten times the initial investment, based on a very conservative twenty-year building lifespan.[70]

A study of twenty-two green federal buildings was conducted by the General Services Administration and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. It compared one year of operating data and surveys of green building occupants to those of the national average for conventional commercial buildings. It found that green government buildings

cost 19 percent less to maintain

used 25 percent less energy and water

emitted 36 percent less CO2

had a 27 percent higher rate of occupant satisfaction[71]

Others maintain that the initial costs simply outweigh benefits. The costs associated with these structures are believed to be quite expensive. In fact, homeowners might have to invest lots of money; however, in the long run, the invested money could be returned through energy-saving possibilities.[72]

Even if green construction does cost more as an additional investment, it typically yields operational savings worth several times that much. Other studies show that many LEED-designed buildings do not cost more and can actually cost less than conventional construction as they save money in the long run via their sustainable practices.[73] Numerous sources of funding for green building are available at the national, state, and local levels for industry, government organizations, and nonprofits. To begin, check out


A Change of Habitat

We will be able to do something the founders of the first cities could not—pick up and move them. With developments in the assembling of buildings through drones, nanotechnology-enhanced materials, and industrial 3D printing, dissembling structures en masse and deploying them elsewhere could be accomplished with good planning. At present, houses are being designed that can be moved by boat, dirigible, or drone.[74]

Then again, one dystopian outcome is that cities will simply continue as they are or be deserted. The costs of change may result in some areas simply being sacrificed and abandoned.

In a smartly controlled building, comfort zones will be monitored by computers that will offer middle-of-the-road temperatures, or something like a constant, humidity-controlled seventy-two to seventy-eight degrees depending on weather and, in living spaces, also depending on your age and gender.[75]

Zero Net Energy: A Plus

Zero net energy (ZNE) consumption means that the total amount of energy used by the buildings on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy used that produces no greenhouse gas. ZNE buildings should be the goal of all cities, present as well as future. Developers of speculative commercial buildings have begun to showcase ZNE designs.[76]

As we venture out into the solar system, many new modes of living space will be experimented with and improved upon, incorporating sustainability, comfort, and planned growth. Space is the limit.

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