Cities 2070: What is Truly "Sustainable?"

Antony Wood
Chief Executive Officer
Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, Chicago

The early 21st century marked a watershed moment in which the world recognized the importance of “sustainable” thinking, where the long-term effects of human activities became a consideration in decision-making, and the prospects of a future society operating in harmony with the natural environment seemed possible. The development trajectory of many cities changed course, with a focus on reducing emissions and energy usage, and a heightened consciousness surrounding the lifecycle impacts of industrial activities and consumption. Against this backdrop, the inherent sustainability of the tall building – and dense urban growth at large – has been debated extensively.

This trend towards greater urban sustainability has been challenged recently, on a geo-political level, with several commitments to combat climate change reneged on. Against this backdrop, there is also a bigger question: what if cities become inherently unviable in the future due to their geographic location and the increasing effects of climate change? The severity of devastating climatic events presents a clear risk to many of the world’s biggest cities. In this respect, the sustainability of individual buildings becomes a moot point, if the city itself is unviable. We must therefore confront the environmental realities threatening the long-term existence of a city before we can demonstrate truly sustainable building typologies. Expanding on the Closing Keynote from the CTBUH 2017 Australia Conference, this presentation charts patterns in urban growth globally, before discussing the future viability of cities around the world. In showcasing theoretical design work from academic studios convened over a number of years at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the material explores alternative urban futures that embrace density while navigating local environmental conditions across disparate regions.

Accompanying PowerPoint Presentation