Learning from lockdown: Norman Foster on the future of cities

_index Norman Foster

The pandemic could accelerate significant change, the Foster & Partners founder told more than 40 city leaders

First, I would like to congratulate the UN on recognising, through this gathering, the importance of cities, their mayors and civic leaders. Cities are the future of our society – of our civilisation. The words are interchangeable – civic, civilised, cities, citizens. We all know that the world is urban but, in 30 years’ time, 2.5 billion more people will live in cities.

Consider the pace of urbanisation before this pandemic, the equivalent of eight cities the size of New York were emerging annually around the world. In two years, 2011-13, China consumed more concrete than America used in the entire 20th century. Why? Because they are generators of wealth, opportunity, liberation and innovation.

But these powerhouses of our future need day-to -day running – leadership, vision and inspiration. And here I pay tribute to you – the Mayors and the teams that you lead – you are where the action is. Over six decades as an architect and urbanist, through my practice and more recently through my foundation – I have engaged directly with many city mayors and regional governors – so I speak from the heart when I talk about the challenges that you face. I have seen first-hand how, with courage and foresight, that power can be used to change cities for the good of their citizens. I can think back to working with Pasqual Maragall in Barcelona to get rival TV companies to occupy one single communication tower to avoid a mess on the Barcelona skyline. Often, national leaders are just too removed from the front line to get things done.

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