Issue 5: The Human City

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Welcome to Backstory. We are thinking about cities this week and how to pivot urban thinking away from concrete and towards people. With more people than ever living in cities, the time for human-centric urbanism is now. -- Mary Ames, Director of Strategy


The Human City

Urban planners have long struggled to maximise the efficiency of cities. Until recently, the happiness of city dwellers wasn’t the driving motivation for urbanists as defense and commerce usually came first. But change is happening. The rise of connected urbanism places new emphasis on people, their health, and how cities can improve lives. Meanwhile, internet connectivity, artificial intelligence, and other technological innovations are giving planners new tools to create a city that encourages social growth and facilitates wellbeing.

Shifting populations: Cities are home to the majority of the world’s population, generate the majority of global gross domestic product, and are forecast by the United Nations to add another billion urban dwellers globally over the next 14 years. Developing cities are leading the global shift: close to 90% of this growth will take place in Asia and Africa. Human-centric urbanism is needed now more than ever.

Room to innovate: From infrastructure projects that get residents moving to the incorporation of blockchain systems to streamline city governments, there is ample innovation taking place in contemporary urbanism. With all the new technologies coming online, cities in the emerging world can now have their turn. One model for others to emulate during this shift to human-centric urbanism: Dubai.


“Drawing a connection between urbanism and society has long been relegated to the domain of academics. It’s time for a change."

Joseph Dana, senior editor at Xische, writing in Arab News.


The elegant solution: In a piece from our archive, we explore how bicycles are one elegant solution to the challenges of urban life. They get residents more active and diminish our environmental impact. Plus, bicycles and other micro-mobility solutions have been part and parcel of most urban environments for thousands of years. The simplest solution is often the best.

Blockchain and beyond: Here are some facts. The Blockchain marketplace will surpass $60bn by 2024. There are over 1,200 Blockchain startups in 50 countries. Roughly 66 percent of global financial institutions will be on Blockchain by 2020. The UAE has the highest number of blockchain pilot programs in the emerging world, with more than 20 Blockchain projects in Dubai alone. Blockchain is about much more than Bitcoin and we have explored the technology in all its capacities in our latest State of Play report.


Too much of a good thing: Silicon Valley is making major inroads in the education space around the world. From Chromebooks to online courses, edtech startups are helping schools go digital. But is it possible for classrooms to become oversaturated with technology? Students in one small Kansas town are saying enough is enough. The New York Times reports on the fascinating student-led rebellion.

Hold up: Are you carrying your laptop correctly? This week, the quirky team at Quartz investigated something that hits close to home in modern office culture: the way we hold our laptops. Can you spot yourself in their hilarious rundown of laptop holding techniques?


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