Challenges for the Next City


A regular reader here asked me a question the other day. He said: “You talk about the challenges facing the next cities, but I am not sure I understand exactly what you mean.”

So to be as clear as I can, I invite you to read the text below. It is an edited version of an article from The Guardian, in the U.K. It was written by Decca Aitkenhead, and was published March 1st of this year. It is an interview with noted British scientist James Lovelock. Some say he is daft, and even a non-scientist like me can quibble with some of his beliefs and attitudes, but the picture he paints is unfortunately clear.

While this excerpt sounds pretty hopeless, there are many scientific voices nearly echoing these predictions. Yesterday, in the releases of two separate scientific enquiries, both said that if we humans cannot get to zero carbon emissions by mid-century, global warming will be irreversible.

You can decide who you want to believe, but whomever you choose, the outlook ahead is very, very difficult. Already I am reading articles about Cligration – climate change migration, as researchers begin to search for higher ground.

The excerpted article (a link to the full article is below):

Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.

But he fears we won’t invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects “about 80%” of the world’s population to be wiped out by 2100. Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began, he says. “But this is the real thing.”

Interviewers often remark upon the discrepancy between Lovelock’s predictions of doom, and his good humour. “Well I’m cheerful!” he says, smiling. “I’m an optimist. It’s going to happen.”

At moments I wonder about Lovelock’s credentials as a prophet. Sometimes he seems less clear-eyed with scientific vision than disposed to see the version of the future his prejudices are looking for. A socialist as a young man, he now favours market forces, and it’s not clear whether his politics are the child or the father of his science. His hostility to renewable energy, for example, gets expressed in strikingly Eurosceptic terms of irritation with subsidies and bureaucrats. But then, when he talks about the Earth – or Gaia – it is in the purest scientific terms all.

“There have been seven disasters since humans came on the earth, very similar to the one that’s just about to happen. I think these events keep separating the wheat from the chaff. And eventually we’ll have a human on the planet that really does understand it and can live with it properly. That’s the source of my optimism.”

What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: “Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.

Whether you believe Lovelock a lot or a little, surely in the face of these issues alone, the state of most current architectural and urbanist thinking is ridiculously irrelevant. The real question: what kind of next cities do we make in the face of these kinds of predictions?


Upsala Glacier, Argentina, then and now.

The whole Lovelock article is at:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s