Cities are “path dependent”: their futures are shaped by past and present decisions. At times, they become locked in to outdated technologies. Cities in the US have been shaped and ruled by the car. Meanwhile, by not separating waste and drinking water in domestic plumbing, British cities spend vast sums ensuring the quality of water that flushes the loo is as potable as the water we drink from the tap.
It is estimated that the UK will spend more than £400bn on infrastructure in the next 20 years alone. Most of this will be focused on the built environment of our cities, their transport connectivity and their physical fabric.
It will be challenging to predict what sort of extraordinary changes will shape urban Britain over the next five decades. But we need to lay solid foundations for the future by developing the deepest possible understanding of the present. This means identifying how these urban environments – and the millions of people who create and inhabit them – can be given the very best chance to thrive. […]