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Urban populations are growing and around three out of every four of us will live in cities by 2050. Our new website, dedicated to urban development, also shows how rapidly-growing cities around the world could become better places to live. Visit www.futurecities.shell.com.

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

Understanding urban development

As cities grow, pressure on vital resources of energy, water and food increases. Across the world there are big differences in the way cities are built and run, how inhabitants move around and how they use energy. It is vital to understand more about these differences in order to make the right choices for building sustainable cities.

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

We analysed the six city types to better understand the changing world and help create scenarios about how individual cities could evolve and become more efficient. We also examined how cities have coped with major development challenges in the past.

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

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

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.

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.

We have identified several ways in which city leaders can help 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 also make a major contribution to sustainability, as does switching from coal- to gas-fired power generation.

Read our New Lenses on Future Cities supplement to learn more about how urban areas could evolve.