Insights · September 9th, 2012

This is Part 3 of Chapter 3 of our book on the future of cities, being written with  Dennis Walsh. Our plan is to publish a new book blog nearly every day for the next couple of months. We will publish them both here on and on Later we will compile the blogs into an e-book.

We are debating the eventual title. We started with two choices: “Downtown” and “Shine…The Rebirth of American Cities.” Which do you like? We hope you will find the subject of interest and follow this book in serial form. A reader has suggested, “City Transformation?” So far, “Downtown” with a subtitle is leading. What do you think?

by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

You and I have a responsibility to change the world. Even as others resist change or wish to go back in time, life is too short to pretend that we can just wait or go back. The question we all face is whether we just sit back on the couch, grab a cold one and say, “Well that’s just the way it is, nothing I can do about it.” Or whether we are willing to do what we can to shape a better future.

Cities are at a crossroads with little choice but to change direction. Our minds deceive us into thinking something is right when it is really wrong. We imagine living a life of leisure, deceiving ourselves into thinking this kind of a life will make us happy. The truth is that idleness is boring and even depressing.

You are an industrious, creative being. You need challenge and accomplishment to make you truly happy. There is nothing wrong with wanting better things, but these do not automatically make us happy. They may create a temporary high that quickly wears off. It’s a bottomless pit that we can never fill.

The good news is that the decline of weakly managed large cities is neither inevitable nor irreversible. Cities can tackle infrastructure gaps. They can improve planning. And more importantly, provide high productivity jobs. Countries like the U.S. and Britain hope that so-called social entrepreneurs can help find answers to those challenges. Young public-private partnerships and social entrepreneurs have a role to play. Cities are broken and in many cases social entrepreneurs are fixing them.

Building better cities in the future is not about more controls, taller fences, or more effective leadership from the top; it is people and their willingness to change – to become sustainable. The new wave of sustainability is strategic and opportunity driven. For business, it is a response to a changing economic landscape (borrowed wealth and externalized social costs are unsustainable) and to world context. It is a backlash against environmental negativity. In reality, it is celebration of inspiration and the power of people to ignite emotion.

To build better cities, we need to work together. Everyone can be powerful influencers setting trends for others to follow. Here is something cool. Celebrities have jumped onto this environmental bandwagon by embracing issues from animal rights through to deforestation and famine. Crowned ‘Queen of Green’ by Vogue magazine, Cameron Diaz is not just a pretty face. She lives sustainably. Her MTV show Trippin’ takes viewers on eco-adventures to endangered habitats around the world.

Leonardo DiCaprio sets a benchmark for people in the public eye. DiCaprio wrote, produced and narrated The 11th Hour, a documentary in 2007. He partnered with Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer on a limited edition Aquaracer 500M timepiece, with sales benefiting two of his favorite causes. And he maintains a blog on environmental issues and green living.

Daryl Hannah is an organic gardener and strives to “carbon-neutralize” herself living in a house that is off the grid. Hannah is a long time environmentalist who has previously been arrested for green causes.

There is a new breed of fashion designer whose aesthetics match their ethics. For example, Natalia Allen established herself as the design futurist early in her career by setting out to design sustainable fashion from the farmers field to the recycle bin for used clothing. She has become a sought after global leader and consultant to fashion companies. Ethical fashion is growing in status from a trend into a full-fledged movement.

One thing is clear – public spending for large-scale new programs is difficult. Global warming will accelerate as systems operate past their capacity. Without skillful management, cities will become centers of decay, gridlock and pollution. Tuition increases, student protest rallies and staggering cuts to the state budgets are a running narrative. In thirty years, the United States is expected to be a majority minority nation. Social challenges like reducing poverty and improving education will not go away easily. But at least people are trying in a myriad of ways to address these issues. And while the global economy remains a conflicting, confusing mixture of boom and bust economies, it is encouraging to know that some people are out there working together for change.

Where all of this is leading us is uncertain. What this has to do with cities is open for discussion. You might say that uncertainty is the new normal. The old order has been so shaken that it has become impossible to describe exactly what the present or future holds. And yet, more and more people are asking, “Where are we headed? What is the vision of the future?”

One thing is certain: we are all at the beginning of economic and social transformation to a sustainable world. Crises are, after all, tremendous opportunities. Ten years from now, youth will make up the majority of the global population, this despite the age wave going on at the same time. So, the future is all up to you.


[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of, and curator of Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through]

Millennial City
Nikolas Badminton – Chief Futurist

Nikolas Badminton

Nikolas is the Chief Futurist of the Futurist Think Tank. He is world-renowned futurist speaker, a Fellow of The RSA, and has worked with over 300 of the world’s most impactful companies to establish strategic foresight capabilities, identify trends shaping our world, help anticipate unforeseen risks, and design equitable futures for all. In his new book – ‘Facing Our Futures’ – he challenges short-term thinking and provides executives and organizations with the foundations for futures design and the tools to ignite curiosity, create a framework for futures exploration, and shift their mindset from what is to WHAT IF…

Contact Nikolas