Cities of the future

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Cities of the future

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What will the cities of the future look like, and will we enjoy living in them? Alice and Neil discuss Neil's attempt at town planning

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Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I’m Alice And I’m Neil.

Have you ever played SimCity, Neil - the city-building computer game?

Yes, but I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t build enough houses, which created a lot of homeless Sims - those are the characters in the game. And then I didn’t deal effectively with a flood.

Really? Well, I suppose managing a city is quite a challenge - which is the subject of today’s show: cities of the future - an important subject as so many of us now live in urban areas.

I want to start with our quiz question: What is the percentage of the world’s population that will be living in cities in 2050?

We’re dealing with approximates here. Is it… a) 10%? b) 50%? Or c) 70%?

I think that it’s a) 10%.

Well, we’ll find out if you’re right or wrong later on in the show. Now, you’ve encountered a couple of issues that might face urban planners when designing a city, Neil - housing and dealing with a flood. Can you think of any others?

Yes. Having decent cycle lanes. Good transport networks are very important.

Yes indeed, and if people could get around easily on foot, or by bike, or by public transport, roads would be less congested - or overcrowded - and less polluted. That sounds rather utopian to me though.

A utopia is an imaginary place where everything is perfect. But Copenhagen is pretty utopian, Alice - t he air is clean, there are bike lanes everywhere.

That sounds fantastic, but what about somewhere like Beijing with its constant smog - or air pollution - hanging over the city? A lot of people ride bikes there too. So which city is going to be the model for the future?

Maybe like the future Los Angeles in the movie Blade Runner - you know, glittering high-rises, gigantic neon billboards, flying cars…

Well, today’s Los Angeles has terrible urban sprawl and traffic problems.

Urban sprawl is the way a city spreads into undeveloped land around it, often without planning permission.

Dr Janice Pearlman can explain why this happens. She is the founder and president of the Megacities Project non-profit organization in Rio de Janeiro and knows a lot about urban sprawl in Brazilian cities.

Dr Janice Pearlman, founder and president of the Megacities Project non-profit organization, Rio de Janeiro

People are coming massively into the cities which have no housing that’s affordable to them. So they can’t rent and they can’t buy, and they end up building their own communities and houses on unoccupied land.

And these communities are becoming in some places the majority not the minority and they’re off the grid so they’re not often serviced by either the social services but also many of them don’t have water, sanitation and electricity.

People migrate - or move - from the countryside to the city to get better opportunities, but end up with nowhere to live.

So they build their own housing on unoccupied land. These shanty towns - poor communities where the houses are built out of cheap materials like corrugated iron and plastic sheeting - are often off the grid …

Which means they don’t have an electricity or water supply - or access to healthcare and education. And these communities are growing, so the problem is getting bigger. So are there any solutions, Alice?

Well, it’s all about improving the infrastructure. That’s the basic facilities a town or city needs, for example: communication, transport, water, and electricity.

But this shouldn’t only mean improving housing conditions, but also promoting education and employment among the inhabitants, and building better communities.

That sounds like a real headache for the urban planners.

You’re right there. And one thing urban planners are talking about at the moment is creating ‘smart cities’. John Rossant, founder and chairman of the non-profit organisation New Cities Foundation, explains what it is.

John Rossant, founder and chairman of the non-profit organisation New Cities Foundation, New York City

I think, you know, generally it’s accepted that cloud computing, ubiquitous internet, robust 5G networks etc, will transform our cities, whether they’re in the global south or the developed world. And, you know, technology is really a game changer, I think, in urbanisation.

John Rossant there. What’s ubiquitous , Alice?

It means available everywhere. So, the idea behind smart cities is to use technology to collect large amounts of data about how a city is performing.

And that will be a game changer - significantly affecting the way our cities function.Hope for the future, Alice?

Fingers crossed. Now, I think it’s time for the answer to today’s quiz question, Neil. I asked: What is the percentage of the world’s population that will be living in cities in 2050?

And remember I said we are dealing with approximates here? Is it… a) 10%? b) 50%? Or c) 70%?

And I said a) 10%.

Yes, and you underestimated there, Neil. The right answer is actually c) 70%. This, according to a report by the United Nations. Today 54% of the world’s population lives in urban areas.

A lot really!


Well, I know we’re running out of time, so let me repeat the words we learned today.

They were: congested utopia smog urban sprawl migrate shanty towns off the grid infrastructure ubiquitous game changer

Well, that’s the end of this edition of 6 Minute English. Join us again soon!

Meanwhile, visit our website:, where you’ll find guides to grammar, exercises, videos and articles to read and improve your English.

Bye, bye.

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