Is the Future According to Urban Planners Utopic?

Updated on 12.27.2021
Middle School

10 min read

As they have done throughout history, architects and urban planners are designing what they believe the city of the future should look like. Today, climate action and energy transition needs are the determining factors in their designs. While some projects for the 21st century are well underway, others are science fiction, utopic fantasies or even the stuff of dreams and poetry. Below are just a few of the hundreds of visions put forward for tomorrow’s cities.

An artist's impression of a spiral-shaped underwater city conceived by a Japanese construction firm..

Perpetually Changing Paris

The world’s leading architectural firms are getting excited about urban planning in Paris, where the number of projects has soared in preparation for the 2024 Olympic Games. The main goals are to give more space to pedestrians and eco-friendly modes of transportation, make building facades greener, bring back nature with community gardens, create cool areas, protect water resources and recycle waste. Dozens of projects are being considered or are already in progress; others have been suspended or abandoned. For an interactive map and hundreds of photos, see the Paris Futur website.

Inhabiting the Sea: Ocean Spiral

Living at sea or on the ocean floor is a dream that humankind has entertained since the myth of Atlantis. For many years, Japanese construction firm Shimizu has been looking into the possibility of a “floating global city” that could accommodate up to 5,000 inhabitants. A sphere measuring 500 meters in diameter would be nine-tenths submerged in the ocean and capable of descending along a helical axis to a depth of 4,000 meters, thereby escaping storms at surface level like the Nautilus of Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo. The whole structure, named Ocean Spiral, would be capable of producing all the energy and food necessary, contain shops, accommodation, offices and research laboratories and act as a platform for extracting rare metals found at the ocean floor. Watch the video.

Depolluting Marine Farms

Vincent Callebaut is considering marine farms that cultivate green algae to break down plastics in the oceans. They would produce used by fleets of airships, which the architect believes will be a future method of air transportation. See the project.

Autonomous Islands

The Seasteading Institute, launched by two entrepreneurs in Valley, has the ambitious aim of creating fully autonomous floating islands capable of accommodating people from areas threatened by rising sea-levels due to . The Institute is studying a project in French Polynesia for a 7,500-square-meter platform for 200 residents. Pollutants discharged into the sea would be collected by the floating city and recycled into . The project also has a “libertarian” dimension as these islands would escape the jurisdiction of national governments, thus heralding in a new organization of world geopolitics. 

Conquering the Skies

Some architects give a dream-like dimension to their projects. Bulgarian-born Tsvetan Toshkov, who works in London, dreams of a “city in the sky” built above current metropolises. The project is proudly utopian, with the city shaped like a lotus flower, the symbol of life sung by Japanese poet, Kobayashi Issa. Watch the video.

On-Demand Aerial Pods

Engineers at Nasa’s Ames Research Center have devised an individual transportation network. Pods suspended a few meters above the ground by magnetic levitation would travel around the city along a branched network at speeds of up to 100 kilometers an hour. From micro-stations, users would be able to call a pod via an application on their smartphone. Energy consumption and installation costs would be low. Watch the video.

London’s Garden Bridge Project

Many architects dream of gaining extra space by taking advantage of the quays of ports and rivers in large cities. Inspired by the idea of renowned British actress Joanna Lumley, Thomas Heatherwick, a designer, almost brought a remarkable project to fruition, namely a 367-meter-long garden bridge for pedestrians across the Thames in central London. But budget overruns led to a heated controversy that was the talk of the town for months, eventually sinking the Garden Bridge project. See images


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