Digital Disruption Series: The City of the Future

By 2050, disruptive technologies will have redefined urban mobility, the public realm and adjacent land-use. This megatrend has the potential to create idealized cities if the public good is realized throughvisionary leadership and policies. Under this positive scenario, a car-lite strategy would liberate road space for widened footpaths, micro-parks, pop-ups and wide active travel lanes to cater to the different speeds of bicycles and the proliferation of new personal e-mobility devices.


Last kilometre freight would be delivered almost exclusively by drones and cities would claim the public realm back from the dominance of cars, trucks and buses that have subjugated it for almost a century.Cities could then become people-centered, walkable, safe, tranquil, green, pollution-free series of urban villages and places that are distinctive, contextual and local.

The big policy question might be whether to allow passenger drones to operate anywhere – anytime. The forces against will probably be concerned about creating a new urban elite whose feet never touch the ground as they fly from their city office to their favorite restaurant then onto home.


Their worry is likely to be that the public realm would become unloved and uncared for if it is not universally used. That this neglect would relinquish it to a bleak other-worldly reality. Think Blade Runner.


Whatever the trends in global practice, it is clear that a central organizing principle for successful cities is a focus on people. Jan Gehl’s life-between-the-buildings philosophy supports public life in public space through scale, form, micro-climate and encourages interaction to produce a civic life that is rich, diverse and for every citizen. It is important to keep the focus on “cities-are-for-people” first and importantly, one needs to understand how people are using the public space and how urban design can support this.


Gehl drew inspiration from Jane Jacob’s earlier important work on how to build-in vibrancy and street life through her seminal book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961). Her work coined the term, “Eyes on the Street” and the sociological concept of “social capital” by promoting fine grained, small city block mixed use development, where children could play safely on the streets and people knew one another through the incidental interactions of daily street life, even in a big city like New York. These are still the important building blocks of successful cities today and in the future.


Greenwich Village New York 1960

In this series of articles, I will explore how digital disruption has created a series of megatrends that are now cascading through key sectors impacting on the future of regions; transport; retail; and freight and logistics. I will draw on MacroPlan research and analysis in these domains to tell the story about what is happening and how to respond to it.

Tony Carmichael
National Principal Strategic Advisor
07 3221 8166