Around three out of every four of us will live in cities by 2050. As cities swell, pressure on vital resources like water and energy will become ever greater. Across the world there are big differences in the way cities are built and run, their transport systems and energy use. It is vital to understand more about these differences in order to make the right choices for building sustainable cities.

Understanding urban development

Every city is unique, but some share similar traits. Research into 500 cities by Strategy&, supported by Shell, shows that cities can be grouped into six broad categories, which we call city archetypes.

This research helps us to understand what choices may be needed to build sustainable cities in the future, but also how cities have coped with major development challenges in the past.

For example, faced with high levels of poverty and unemployment in the 1960s, Singapore has since evolved into one of the world’s most prosperous cities through smart urban planning and investment in public transport.

“I suspect that one day historians will describe the 100 years to 2050 as the century of the city.”

Jeremy Bentham, Head of Shell Scenarios

Ways into the future

We have identified several ways that could help city leaders make the urbanisation process more sustainable. Effective planning to reduce the need to travel around cities, together with efficient public transport for when it is unavoidable, can make a big difference.

Wider use of electric, hydrogen or natural gas-driven vehicles – in addition to more efficient combustion engine vehicles – can make a major contribution to sustainability, as can switching from coal to gas-fired power generation.

Why not take our quiz and find out which city best matches your personality, before discovering more about the six city archetypes.

Want to read more?

Visit the Shell Scenarios section to download our New Lenses on Future Cities supplement and in-depth city reports, and read more about how we might make our cities more efficient and appealing places to live.

More in future cities

Six city archetypes

Every city is unique, but many share similar features. We used research into 500 cities to group cities into six broad categories.

Compare cities

Compare the future of 500 cities from around the world with our city comparison tool.

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Shell Scenarios

Shell Scenarios ask “what if?” questions about the future. They help us, governments and academia understand possibilities and uncertainties ahead.