To build megacities that better meet people’s basic needs, offer new opportunities for young people, empower women, and foster sustainably is to build an urban way of life unlike anything we’ve yet seen. This megacity future is going to spawn a whole array of new possibilities, ones we can’t anticipate from our armchairs in the developed world. It’s already begun. In Malaysia, young architects have come up with a design for a home outfitted with giant solar panels that open like petals as the day warms, shading the home and capturing electricity, and then fold back up as the evening cools, bringing the colder night air into the house and making the surrounding garden a pleasant place to sit, drink tea, and stargaze. In Harare, Zimbabwe, architects have created a biomimetic [see Biomimicry, p. 99] building that resembles an African termite mound. The Eastgate building copies the way termites use earth masses and ventilation tunnels to keep their mounds at a constant temperature. Consequently, the Eastgate needs no air-conditioning system, despite the blistering Harare heat.
Other innovations are being built from simpler parts, but are no less revolutionary. In Curitiba, Brazil, mayor Jaime Lerner led the creation of innovative low-tech social programs, including gardens tended by street kids, payments in food to homeless people who collect litter, converted buses that serve as mobile clinics in the slums, even architectural assistance for the surge of poor immigrants building their own homes. On top of that, Curitiba has built a world-famous transit system, and has expanded its parks and boulevards, giving it the most green space of any Brazilian city.
This is all just the beginning. The new urban future, in full bloom, may be nearly unfathomable to us in the old-fashioned Global North. The future doesn’t think like North Americans do: the future is unfolding in places that have mobile phones but still rely on the arrival of the caravans, that sell computer chips in souks and bazaars, that burn sandalwood incense in five-hundred-year-old temples but broadcast video-game championships on TV. A bright green future will smell of curry and plantains, soy sauce and chipotle, and will sound more like Moroccan rap and twangy Mongol pop than Mariah Carey. We in the Global North don’t know—we can’t know—how the next generation of megacity urbanists will respond to the possibilities unfolding in front of them. The best research and development in urban planning won’t be done by established professionals in developed-world think tanks, corporate labs, or universities. It’ll be done on the streets of developing-world cities, by a younger generation just now coming into its own.
They don’t need our answers; they need the tools for finding and sharing their own answers. Redistribute the tools for invention and innovation, and the citizens of the megacities will remake the world. – Alex Steffen, Excerpt from book: WORLD CHANGING, a User’s Guide for the 21st Century