Insights · October 15th, 2012

This is Part 2 of Chapter 5 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


It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. It’s easy to start taking things for granted; important things like water. When it comes to urban climate change, water is one of the most complex issues cities face.

Changing climate patterns have already compromised water sources, and forced communities to address a host of challenges. Some regions experience more extremes in heat than others. They get flooding and drought. But the most serious impact of climate change is its affect on water resources.

Water is abundant. It covers 75% of the earth’s surface: The total amount of water on earth remains about the same from one year to the next. It circulates between the oceans, land and atmosphere in a cycle of evaporation and precipitation.

The hit song “Surfin’ USA” spread the names of a handful of beaches around the world. Of all the great beaches in America, Hampton Beach State Park in New Hampshire is the “superstar”. But who knows what is lurking in the water. Sharks and jellyfish are not the only things to worry about. Beaches are a summer rite of passage that can unfortunately make you sick. Beach water pollution causes stomach flu, pink eye, dysentery and other serious health problems. Pollution from storm water runoff and sewage overflows plagues the country’s beaches. The Natural Resources Defense Council says more than 3,000 beaches countrywide have enough bacterial contamination to put swimmers at risk. That’s just one example.

You can’t discuss climate change or much about anything else to do with cities without addressing water. It can bring stability and prosperity, or it can lead to crisis. Urban water issues go as far back as the rise of the American city. Water made expansion possible. Since then, growth and over development have been central issues to the quality of our water supply.

Around the world, people kill each other over diamonds. Countries go to war over oil. But these most expensive commodities are worth nothing in the absence of water. A child dies every three and a half seconds from drinking dirty water. Bad water kills more people than wars or earthquakes. Without water, there would be no plants, no
animals, and no people. The need for water trumps every human principle. The challenge is to ensure that everyone has equal access to safe water. But the water industry is in trouble.

America’s water problems come from a lack of respect for water. We need to develop  a water ethic that values and conserves water, keeps it local, avoids over tapping of aquifers and massive water projects. The world is running out of fresh water. Climate change, over consumption and the alarmingly inefficient use of this most basic raw material are all to blame.

Our cities’ industrial infrastructures on the whole lose trillions of gallons of water every year. A recent international report by the Carbon Disclosure Project investigated the impact of water scarcity and water-related issues on some of the world’s largest  companies in water-intensive industries. Nearly 40 per cent of companies surveyed were experiencing water problems and most have developed water strategies and plans.

The situation is serious but companies are becoming more aware of business opportunities in water. Water is an economic driver for strengthening the economy and keeping our communities vibrant and healthy. Business water management is fast becoming a key strategic tool.

You get the point. But remember, what goes on around you shouldn’t limit you. This is not the end. It’s only the beginning. You are limited only by your thinking. You won’t
(no one will) solve problems by relying on what went on in the past. Innovation is possible, and breakthroughs will occur if and when we realize that the problems we face are the result of a way of thinking whose time has passed.


[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