Jump menu

Main content |  back to top

Around three out of every four of us will live in cities by 2050. As cities swell, pressure on vital resources of energy, water and food 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’s vital to understand more about these differences in order to make the right choices for building sustainable cities.

Matching common traits

Every city is unique, but some share similar traits. Cities can be grouped into six categories, according to research supported by Shell.

Underdeveloped Urban Centres

267 examples including:

  • Nanchong
  • Kathmandu
  • Algiers

Total energy used 0.49

Billion tonnes of oil equivalent/year

Developing Mega-Hubs

26 examples including:

  • Chongqing
  • Nairobi
  • Hyderabad

Total energy used 0.22

Billion tonnes of oil equivalent/year

Underprivileged Crowded Cities

42 examples including:

  • Bangalore
  • Manila
  • Kinshasa

Total energy used 0.36

Billion tonnes of oil equivalent/year

Sprawling Metropolises

41 examples including:

  • Houston
  • Rio de Janeiro
  • Tokyo

Total energy used 1.66

Billion tonnes of oil equivalent/year

Prosperous communities

127 examples including

  • Stockholm
  • Calgary
  • Dubai

Total energy used 1.13

Billion tonnes of oil equivalent/year

Urban Powerhouses

8 examples including:

  • Hong Kong
  • Singapore
  • New York

Total energy used 0.46

Billion tonnes of oil equivalent/year

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

Urban evolution

In the New Lens Scenarios we introduced analytical tools to help us better understand the changing world around us. We have applied these tools to the six city types, creating scenarios around how individual cities could evolve and how they might be more efficient.

Singapore and Detroit

Singapore took decisive steps in urban planning, housing and transportation which gave it room to manoeuvre for its long-term physical development.

Population growth in Singapore has nearly doubled

In such a space-constrained city, an efficient road and public transport network is essential.

Singapore opened the first Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line in 1987

...it had built some 178 km of rail lines by 2014

...with plans to further expand the network to around 360 km by 2030

63% of all daily peak hour commuter trips today in Singapore are made using public transport

Detroit struggled to find and finance solutions to the loss of manufacturing jobs.

In 1960 Detroit had the highest per capita income of any city in the USA but by 2013 it faced the highest poverty rate in the USA.

  • 70,000 abandoned buildings
  • 23% unemployment, the highest rate in the USA
  • 60% child poverty rate
  • 50% of the population are functionally illiterate
  • 33% of city vacant or derelict
  • 1950 population - 1,850,000

  • 2013 population - 701,000  

Better planning

We have identified a number of areas for action – all of which rely on strong city leaders. The areas include:

  • Urban planning which focuses on the efficient use of resources. Compact cities such as Hong Kong use much less energy per person than sprawling cities like Los Angeles.
  • Smaller cars powered by electricity or hydrogen fuel cells, as well as trucks fuelled by liquefied natural gas.
  • The use of global positioning technologies to monitor freight transport, helping ensure goods are delivered efficiently.
  • Switching coal-fired power stations to cleaner-burning natural gas.
World Cities Summit
World Cities Summit
Shell officially launched the New Lenses on Future Cities supplement at the World Cities Summit, a biennial event held again in Singapore, 1-4 June 2014. The forum provides an exclusive platform for government leaders and industry experts to address the challenges of liveable and sustainable cities, share integrated urban solutions, and forge new partnerships. A broad range of industry topics are covered including energy, cities and scenarios, as well as water in the energy industry.