FUTURE CITIES: Utopia or Dystopia?
Updated: Sep 13
I am by no means an expert on this topic so this is me regurgitating what I learnt during the 2nd Zero Waste Festival Malaysia back in June.
What is the situation now?
There are 33 megacities in the world, each with 10 million population or more. There are no standard criteria for a megacity but population count is one of them.
Megacities include Tokyo, Jakarta, Beijing, Paris and Moscow.
Kuala Lumpur is not a megacity. It only has 1.8 million people.
A megacity might sound bombastic and fantastic but in reality, it also faces the main challenges of poverty and pollution. While the economy might be booming, so does inequality.
But this talk by Steve Fernandez, Creative Manager of Dean & Deluca, was not a depressing one. It was rather a hopeful speech.
He breezed through quite a lot of points or ideas about what we may expect in future megacities.
And here I’ll breeze through them all.
1. (VIRTUAL) DARK KITCHENS
We are already beginning to see this happening. More and more people are opting for food deliveries, trusting our food to unknown chefs in central kitchens. We may not know where the ingredients come from but we trust the brands of the food we order from. Food delivery companies like Grab meet the demands of the common folk working 9-6 (oftentimes longer) in four walls.
2. POORER WASTE MANAGEMENT
As if the current waste management system isn’t bad, Mr Fernandez warned that it would be worse. I swear this was probably the only depressing point he made but this would indeed be the reality of future cities. With us consuming more and depending on conveniences like packed delivered food, there’s no wonder if we would create more waste than we could ever manage.
3. FOOD CARE + GENETIC
These two industries will merge together to create a healthy eating guide tailored to our genome or biological history. I suppose the more pollution there is, the more we will realise how important our health is. Funny.
4. VEGANISM EN VOGUE
Ha! That would be such a dream come true! Well, the wealthier countries are seeing a boom in meatless meat aka Impossible Burgers. Soon there will be lab-grown (actual) meat being sold commercially whether we personally like it or not. But damn I would love to see the day when the majority of people adopt a vegan diet.
5. ALGAE AS ALTERNATIVE PROTEIN
Algae absorb carbon and emit oxygen faster than other photosynthetic organisms. So it would make sense if algae displace current unsustainable protein sources.
6. ACTIVELY TACKLING FOOD WASTE
While this (wasting 1/3 of food produced each year) is still an issue that many still do not talk about, a few future-minded cities have implemented some solutions including upcycling ‘ugly foods’ and turning them into biogas. South Koreans are paying for the recycling and smart AI containers are being used (though I don’t know how that works).
7. REGENERATIVE ORGANIC FARMING
I haven’t explored much of regenerative agriculture but it’s basically “a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services”. One of the practices that Mr Fernandez mentioned was covering farm beds with plastic to reduce weeds. There will also be such a thing as “smart farms” using AI and drones on conventional or vertical farms.
8. SINGLE-USE PLASTICS
This will be the thing of the past and will be replaced by biodegradable materials. Plastic seems to be the common environmental concern for all who care, even more than the fact that the Amazon is burned for animal agriculture aka meat & dairy production. But yeah I guess people can see and feel how much plastic is negatively impacting our lives. For one, a study has found that we are all basically consuming one credit card each week, which is equivalent to 5g of microplastics. Crazy. That’s why woke places like Canada and Hawaii have banned single-use plastics.
We have a long way to go…
It seems very optimistic how Mr Fernandez laid out the way future cities would be like.
While I’d like to hope that all of those would happen (except the part where we can’t manage our waste well), I’m also skeptical of the future. Seeing how distracted we are with mindless entertainment and focusing more on material profit than spiritual/natural connection, I feel like we are a long way away to Utopia.
Perhaps, such as it is our human nature to go through pain & suffering prior to joy & success, we might have to go through a kind of Dystopia before we taste the sweet & blissful Utopia.