Camilla Ween: Future Cities

Camilla Ween’s (LF '08) recently published book Future Cities: All That Matters is an absorbing view of the ways urban life may change and adapt to the continuing explosion in world population during the next few decades. In a review for the LOEBlog, Armando Carbonell (LF ’93), chair of the Department of Planning and Urban Form at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, gives you his compelling reasons to grab it, read it, and share it with your friends.

Tipping the scales at 142 pages including index (but not counting xvii pages worth of introduction) and fitting comfortably in the hand with its 5x7 inch format, this neat little book punches above its weight. Despite the seriousness of the subject, the book is not heavy, nor is it in the least pessimistic. It focuses primarily on the next 20 to 30 years, but occasionally looks out to the end of this century when the world’s population could reach 10 billion, most living in cities, many in informal settlements not supported by infrastructure. The stance of the author is revealed a bit by her quote of Danny Dorling’s whimsical observation that a population of 10 billion would be like “an algae bloom of human beings.” Camilla Ween, Loeb Fellow, architect, urban planner, and transport expert is well qualified to take on the challenges of global urbanization.

In round numbers, based on United Nations projections, we can expect the world urban population to grow by 2.5 billion in 2050, including another 400 million city dwellers in India, 300 million in China, 200 million in Nigeria, and 100 million in the United States. As Camilla points out, the challenge is not just more people in cities, but more really big cities: megacities over 10 million and metacities over 20 million. The book introduces a series of “big issues” in the opening chapter, followed by 7 chapters offering sensible prescriptions for action on the topics of water infrastructure, energy and waste, housing, transport, food and environment, city life, and sustainability. Not alone among these, I heartily endorse her views on density. Perhaps the biggest of the big issues is climate change. Here Camilla finds cities, which occupy only 2 percent of the world’s surface, to be disproportionately responsible for green house gas emissions, 70 percent of which are attributed to them. I would point out that some cities have far lower emissions per capita than their countries on average, suggesting, as I’m sure Camilla would agree, that urbanization need not be antithetical to climate change mitigation.

I found the brief concluding chapter to be particularly uplifting. I commend it to you for its view of future cities as ”delightful democratic places where social interaction thrives.” I also enjoyed the bonus section, “100 Ideas.” It reads like the Whole Earth Catalog, had it been published as a collection of tweets. Here items alternate between enlightenment and just plain fun: diverse factoids (cow farts and climate change; the global city with highest per capita waste generation; the city furthest below sea level); good books to read (fellow Fellow Tracy Metz’s Sweet and Salt: Water and the Dutch is No. 19—see my LOEBlog review); inspirational sources (Solly Angel’s Lincoln Institute book Planet of Cities at No. 29); a non-disastrous megaproject (No. 86, the London Overground, which I can personally vouch for). And that’s all before you get to my favorite urban myth at No. 98 “You are never more than six feet from a rat.”

(Important note: This review has been in no way influenced by a certain Cambridge-based think tank being named at No. 75 as one of “Ten Agencies Driving Change.”)

Future Cities book coverFuture Cities: All That Matters by Camilla Ween has been jointly published by Hodder and Stoughton (UK) and McGraw-Hill (US).

Alan Altshuler (professor emeritus, HKS and GSD) also gives it his thumbs-up: “Wise, comprehensive in its statement of the issues, and peppered with valuable examples from across the globe, Future Cities provides a superb introduction to the challenges of sustainable urbanization. I hope it will be widely read, and influential.”

Get your copy of Future Cities: All That Matters

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