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Although the Council does allow for the possibility of a “decisive re-assertion of U.S. power,” the futurists seem pretty well convinced that America is, relatively speaking, on the decline and that China is on the ascent. In fact, the Council believes nation-states in general are losing their oomph, in favor of “megacities [that will] flourish and take the lead in confronting global challenges.” And we’re not necessarily talking New York or Beijing here; some of these megacities could be somehow “built from scratch.”
Brazil's capital is one of the best known planned cities in the world. From space it looks like a bird, or a plane... or Superman.
Brasília was almost entirely built in 41 months, at great expense, and opened in April 1960. It was intended to be a more central, neutrally located capital for the country whose previous capital, Rio de Janeiro, sits on the southeastern coast in the midst of much of the country's commercial activity. Today, Brasilia's greater metropolitan area is home to nearly 4 million people. It is one of the largest cities in the world that was built since 1900.
This nine-pointed fortress is perhaps the best example of a planned city from the Renaissance. Palmanova was built in 1593 and is located in the northeastern corner of Italy near the border with Slovenia.
It was intended to be home to a completely self-reliant utopian community that could also defend itself against the Ottomans. It had three guarded entrances, ramparts between each of the star points and eventually a moat. Sadly, nobody was willing to move there. Eventually it was used as free housing for pardoned criminals. Today it is a national monument, a tourist destination and home to around 5,000 people.
El Salvador, Chile
El Salvador is a small town in the middle of nowhere in Chile (see below). After discovering a huge amount of copper ore in 1954, the Anaconda Mining Company had to build a self-sustaining town to house its workers. Designed by an American architect, it is supposedly built in the shape of a Roman helmet. The town was finished in 1959, the same year that the El Salvador mine was opened. The city was home to as many as 24,000 people but today has around 7,000 and is still an active mining town.
At the end of the 19th century, Australia's two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, were vying to be the capital of the country. The compromise was to build a brand new city in between the two, and in 1908, Canberra was chosen as the site for this new planned city.
A competition was held to decide who would design the new Canberra, and in 1912 the plan of American architect Walter Burley Griffin (right) was chosen.
"I have planned a city that is not like any other in the world," Griffin famously said. "I have planned it not in a way that I expected any government authorities in the world would accept. I have planned an ideal city -- a city that meets my ideal of the city of the future."
Griffin was eventually ensnarled in bureaucratic infighting and was kicked off the project in 1920 when barely any construction work had been done. The legislature did not move in to the city until 1927. The city continued to be expanded for decades. Today it is home to more than 350,000 people.
Two years ago, developer Stan Gale cut the ribbon on the world’s newest city—a man-made island in the Yellow Sea named New Songdo. The chairman of New York-based Gale International had pledged in 2001 to borrow $35 billion to build a city the size of downtown Boston modeled on Manhattan, complete with a hundred-acre “Central Park” fronted by South Korea’s tallest building. Songdo won’t be finished until 2016 at least, but Gale isn’t waiting around. These days, he’s pitching China’s mayors on his “city-in-a-box”—a kit to build their own smart, green city of the future in as little as three years. “We’re going to be the special sauce of city-building,” he vows.
The most ambitious instant city of all remains New Songdo, which aims to be the template for dozens to follow. Originally commissioned by Korea’s government to lure multinationals from Singapore and Hong Kong, Songdo is less of a Korean city than a Western one floating just offshore from Seoul. Eschewing the sci-fi trappings of Tianjin or Mentougou, Songdo’s architects at New York’s Kohn Pedersen Fox chose to cherry-pick the signatures of beloved cities and recycle them as building blocks. In practice, this means its streets and Central Park are modeled on Manhattan’s, its canal inspired by Venice, and its gardens borrowed from Savannah’s. (The golf course is courtesy of Jack Nicklaus.) This model has proved wildly popular with middle-class Koreans, who bought the first 1,600 apartments in a wild weekend scramble in May, 2005. Roughly a third of Songdo’s 65,000 envisioned residents now live there; the rest are expected to move in by 2017.
Songdo, too, is being touted as the greenest, most energy-efficient city in the world. All of its water and waste will be recycled and buildings will boast solar panels and sod on their roofs, specially glazed windows, and superefficient fixtures for efficient heating, cooling, and ventilation. It’s also meant to be “smart” in the sense that every square inch of the city will be wired with digital synapses—from the trunk lines running beneath the streets to the filaments branching through every wall and fixture. To what end? Stan Gale and his partners at Cisco Systems aren’t sure, but imagine if a city operated like an Apple iPhone—they would like to sell you the apps for everyday life.