Insights · October 20th, 2012

This is Part 3 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 How Cities and Millennials will Shape the Future is leading. What do you think?

by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

Great cities anticipate risk, limit impact, and bounce back in the face of turbulent change. If that’s true of cities, its true of businesses as well.

It’s time to get real. 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. The carbon challenge is real and deep change is inevitable. The world is not going to end any time soon. But, to do too little or nothing now is unthinkable. We have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren. So stop looking for an exit strategy. Sustainability of natural resources is everybody’s problem. But of course you already know that. The question is, where do we go from here?

The real problem is not the lack of alternatives, but a lack of understanding of the problem itself. Understanding is a far more valuable skill than problem solving. Asking the right question is only half the answer. If possible solutions present unattractive alternatives the problem has not been explored deeply enough. We like to solve problems quickly don’t we? That’s part of our multitasking mentality. Slowing the decision making process down can actually accelerate the possibility of finding an effective and lasting solution. It might even produce a solution that solves more than one issue.

The consequences of a decision can last a long time. Unless you explore the question and project the impact of your solution through multiple scenarios, you cannot make a responsible decision. When it comes to cities, ideas are bargaining chips for the future. They reveal options. Without them, cities are handcuffed by the past and vulnerable to the possibilities defined by their competitors.

Asking the right question is only half the answer. We have yet to admit the dangers and destructive effects of mental pollutants that continue to degrade the quality of our mental fitness and undermine the progress of our culture. It’s time to recognize the damage caused by our toxic culture. Some say advertising is a kind of pollution; that the commercial media are to the mental environment what factories are to the physical environment. We’re suffering from over half a century of unrestrained greed, a daily diet of advertising and rampant over-consumption.

Talk about change, the iPhone, iPod or iPad you buy today will be obsolete next year. Marketers sell style, status and the confidence of knowing that we are not missing out on anything. Should manufacturers slow down the stream of new technologies coming out? That’s unlikely. The market demands it.

Look at the auto market. Audi can’t get cars out the door fast enough. Their factories are running at full capacity to meet record demand for the A6 sedan and A3 hatchback. On the demand side, first-time buyers from Tier 3 and lower cities play a vital role in driving future market growth. As income levels rise, demand is shifting toward vehicles that offer more styling design, function and energy economy. On the supply side, automakers face a challenging business environment, hyper competition, a continued credit crunch and rising costs. They too are forced to ‘anticipate risk, limit impact, and bounce back in the face of turbulent change’.

Markets are changing. Less is more is a growing trend. Ecouterre, the eco-fashion magazine, predicts an emerging frugality trend “slow fashion”. Like fast food, we’ve been victims of fast fashion. A few years ago, sustainable super star Kate Fletcher was an advertising executive in an uninspired career. She invented a creative challenge for herself; wearing the same dress for an entire year. Seriously. The catch was, obviously, she had to look different every single day. She had to come up with unique outfits to accessorise around this dress without buying anything new. Raising the stakes, she turned her personal challenge into a fundraiser to send underprivileged kids to school.

Life is not always as black and white as this. The perfect solution is for everyone to live a green lifestyle. If more people were willing to do whatever it takes, we could look forward to a better world.

Smart companies and some smart cities have figured it out. The economy is going to have to get smaller in terms of physical impact. The problem is improved productivity means fewer people are needed in each factory to produce more stuff. If we want more jobs, we need more factories. We must take action that goes beyond commissioning studies to ensure economic revitalization and develop a new model for future growth. If we want a robust growing economy, we need a robust manufacturing sector. The critical focus must be on incentivizing innovation. And manufacturing innovation clusters are already in place. But more factories making more stuff means more global warming and more waste, unless we get serious about doing it differently, sustainably.


[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