What do ghost kitchens, biophilic design, augmented reality and digital twins have in common? They’re each hallmarks of the future of our cities.

Each one (and more) features in a new report assembled by Broadsheet and SOON Future Studies, a futures think-tank. Co-authored by SOON Future Studies co-founder and global futures director Sarah Owen, SOON Future Studies’ Tully Walter and Broadsheet, Future Cities is a landmark report that considers what our cities will look like in the coming years.

It includes the findings of a survey of 11,000 Broadsheet readers who live in inner-urban neighbourhoods. “It’s a good mix of quantitative and qualitative research coming together to give a glimpse into what the future of Australian cities will look like,” says Owen.

The forces shaping our future cities
Today, more than half of the global population lives in cities. By 2050, that figure is expected to rise to 68 per cent. How our cities evolve and adapt to accommodate this growth is a pressing issue for urban dwellers and decision-makers alike.

According to the Future Cities report, the future metropolis will be social, smart and sustainable. “We talk about smart, social and sustainable as three separate pillars, but I think the future city is one that triangulates those three really well,” says Owen. “They don’t live in isolation from each other. You can’t have a sustainable city that’s not tech-driven – those things go hand in hand.”

The future city won’t be a dystopian concrete jungle – it will be a riot of green thanks to an abundance of vertical gardens and seamless indoor-outdoor spaces. “The future doesn’t mean futuristic,” says Owen. Urban spaces in the coming decades will call on biophilic design to mimic nature, creating cities that are calming, connected and carbon neutral.

The Future Cities report examines the macro-forces shaping our urban environments, including the ageing population, mass urbanisation, climate change and tech-celeration, a trend that has been fast-tracked by the pandemic, when we all suddenly depended on Zoom, FaceTime and livestreams to connect to the outside world.

This tech-celeration means hybrid experiences that blend the physical and the digital will become the norm. Future Cities quotes the Snap Consumer AR Global Report 2021, which found that nearly 75 per cent of the global population, and almost all smartphone users, will be frequent AR users by 2025.

The shift to digitisation is changing the retail space as well. In a world where online shopping is “firmly ingrained in our day-to-day lives”, Walter says we need to ask, “what role do retail spaces now have in the landscape of the city?”

She says the onus is on retailers to create experiential spaces of connection and community that give people a reason to visit. “Internationally, we’re seeing department stores converting into apartments and integrating community centres and gyms,” says Walter. In Melbourne, department store David Jones is set to open a new office, retail and apartment complex in its flagship location in 2023.

Fostering human connection
The pandemic exacerbated our cities’ longstanding loneliness epidemic. According to the Broadsheet x SOON survey, 54 per cent of participants felt their friendship group has shrunk over the last year, with younger people feeling more affected than their older counterparts.

“Loneliness is something very relatable in the sense we’ve all been working from home,” says Walter. In the future, “increasingly, individuals will be isolated because of work and their age. The question we’re trying to address is what role can a city play … in giving people a sense of community and belonging.”

The Future Cities report argues that cities that drive connection will be critical for the wellbeing of future generations. “The pandemic taught us about the importance of being more interconnected with our neighbours and this sense of community solidarity,” says Owen. “Cities understand the need to build spaces for different people, to build spaces for connection, to build spaces for serendipitous discovery and meaningful interruptions in your day.”

Learn more at Future Cities, an event presented by Broadsheet and SOON Future Studies on Thursday 2 December from 4:30pm - 5:30pm. Buy tickets.

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