Introducing a new book

Over the past months, I have integrated the editions of the series Future Cities, Humane by Choice. Smart by Default into a new e-book. Just like the articles, the book provides a comprehensive view at the development of humane cities. The book is available now, as you see with a slightly different title.

As a reader of the articles, you are invited to download the e-book for free (see below).

This announcement is illustrated with three sketches that my father made in 1939 of children in Maastricht Stokstraat quarter, then a slum-like neighborhood, now gentrificated.

When I was writing about the humane city, I always had in mind these and the hundreds of millions other children who still live on the brink of poverty. Only in the US – which is said to be ‘the greatest country in the world’ – we are talking about 40% of all children.

I love cities because they reveal all aspects of life in a condensed form. Take New York, a city that I visited recently. The modern architecture, the museums, the lively art scene, the constant hustle and bustle. But also, pollution, traffic jams in and outside the city, greenhouse gases, overdue maintenance of infrastructure, contrasts between rich and poor, the lack of trust between police and people of color, prohibitive housing costs, tens of thousands of evictions per year, 80,000 homeless people. Yet described as one of the ‘smartest cities’ in the world.

Writing this book has depressed me and also made me angry at those who believe that technology can solve all problems. Instead, societal changes at all levels are necessary preconditions. Still, each chapter is illustrated with well-chosen technologies that might be helpful in the development of humane cities.

Anyway, the very first step towards a humane city is to gain in-depth and widely supported insight into the challenges that cities face today. The next step is to formulate an actionable urban agenda for the short and longer term.

The most important question is, what is the main challenge to become a humane city? The best answer is in Julian Agyeman’s definition of just sustainability: The need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and in the future, in a just and equitable way, while living within the boundaries of supporting ecosystems[1].

Moreover, Kate Raworth’s concept of the donut economy has been guiding me also in discovering the pathway towards humane cities[2].

The idea behind the donut economy is simple. If you look at the shape of a donut, you will see two circles. A small circle in the center and a large circle on the outside. The smallest circle represents the minimum social goals (basic needs). The great circle represents the maximum carrying capacity of the planet. A social and ecologically sustainable economy must germinate between the two circles.

Unequal opportunities for the inhabitants of the earth are a recurring theme in the articles and hence in chapters of this book. In all cities of the world, part of the inhabitants is deprived of any form of material convenience and spiritual enrichment. They often lack drinking water, sanitary facilities and electricity, are poorly housed and they live in an environment with more pollution and crime and fewer facilities.

They have poorer health, live shorter and there is little prospect of improvement for their children.

Many attempts have already been made to improve the fate of mankind. Some were successful, many failed. Social housing projects were counterproductive because social housing has increased segregation and it came without (better) work, liveable income and education. Cars seemed blessing, but after they poisoned the cities, they have seriously affected their liveability and today they are one of the most important causes of global warming.

The only way towards a humane city is indeed the most difficult one: An approach to tackle all problems at once, considering their interrelatedness. Cities are the right place for such an approach, as the interdependence of all their problems is obvious. Still, it will take many years, provided the preconditional societal reforms occur.

The series Future Cities, Humane by Choice. Smart by Default was written by Professor Herman van den Bosch, Professor at Open University of The Netherlands. Previously published articles in the series can be found here.

Header image: cover of the new book Future Cities, Always Humane, Smart if Helpful.

You can download the English version of the e-book (optimized for screen) here:

The Dutch version (optimized for screen) can be downloaded here:

[1] Ducan McLaren & Julian Agyeman: Sharing Cities, A case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities.  MIT, 2015, p. 200
[2] Kate Raworth: Doughnut Economics. Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. Random House Business, 2017.

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