Insights · September 10th, 2012

This is Part 4 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

Imagine for a minute that it is all up to you. Work with us on this. What if we really are at the beginning of an economic and social transformation? Are there technologies available to make that transformation? The good news is there are and some of them make economic sense.

When it comes to cities, modeling whole systems is problematic. The challenge is complex, even overwhelming, though becoming easier as computing power increases. But what if you could break that challenge into groups of smaller, less complex, challenges.

The challenge is to find the best technologies and integrate them into high performance products. That could be a good business opportunity, but that would take collaboration. Universities, government and the business community would have to be involved. Everyone would bring an entrepreneurial spirit to the party. That doesn’t happen very often. That’s where you come in. Think about it. If you had the vision, you could seize the opportunity and help to create new opportunities.

South Korea is showcasing the world’s first zero carbon business building in Incheon, near the capital, Seoul. It was built at a cost around $8 million U.S. dollars and uses 66 different technologies, including solar and geothermal. The new Bullitt Foundation headquarters in Seattle seeks a similar goal. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a mission to develop U.S. military based to be net zero in energy and carbon emissions – with no net energy imports and no carbon output.

An even bigger dream, near Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, consists of six main buildings, one street, 101 small apartments, a large electronic library, and the Masdar Institute. This is Masdar City, an eighteen billion dollar project right in the middle of an Arabian desert. A few hundred people live there traveling in driverless electric cars, along shaded streets cooled by a huge wind tower and a Big Brother-style “green policeman” monitoring energy use. Eventually if the economics can work the dream is to house tens of thousands in Masdar, and to act a model city of the future. Showcase cities are critical in the important process of culture change toward sustainability.

In the near future, you will work in offices embedded with sensors to monitor and maintain the environment. Most offices will be outfitted with wall-sized screens that project 360-degree views of videoconference participants. How cool is that? It’s coming. Billions of dollars are going into making sustainable offices and the greener, the better.

Green and sustainable also has to be attractive – why live in a green city if its dull and boring? When you think of any successful city – London, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Sydney – what do you think about? You think of fun, exciting, inviting and economically vital places to live, work, and play – and oh by the way if they sustainable then all the better.

A high-speed ferry service runs every 20 minutes between Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. The ferry blurs the boundaries of the five boroughs and integrates the city. Economic incentives will revitalize Pier 6, which remains the largest port on the American east coast and provides seven billion dollars in business revenues. Pier 6 is being transformed it into a park where Brooklynites will watch open-air films on summer nights or stroll up to Brooklyn Bridge, where the waterfront has been converted into glorious green public space.

Canada’s west coast Dockside Green is in the forefront of global urban planning. Located in Victoria, British Columbia, some say Dockside Green is the eco-community the world is talking about; a showpiece of sustainable design and technology. This is a new-generation, 15-acre mixed-use waterfront community designed to reflect a more responsible approach to the environment. Dockside Green is a triple bottom line development with shared focus on economic, environmental and social goals. (The xyz triple bottom line means the development is successful economically, environmentally and socially.)

With a total of 1.3 million square feet of residential, office, retail and commercial space planned, it raises the bar for the future of sustainable harbor front communities. Dockside has won awards for their development including residential, live/work, retail, office, light industrial uses and extensive public play areas and cultural centers.

There is only so much water in the world; only so much topsoil; only one atmosphere; and only so much CO2 that can be stuffed into that atmosphere. We need a new vision for the planet. One that is socially vibrant, ecologically restorative and economically sound. Dockside Green redefines sustainable waterfront living as we know it. Superior building practices have transformed the site from a contaminated industrial wasteland into a healthy, lively community. It is truly unique, created around the principles of smart growth, green building and sustainable community design in harmony with nature. Imagine that.


[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