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The genius of cities is that they rarely die. Ancient capitals like Istanbul, Varanasi or Luoyang have survived for millennia while empires and nations have risen and fallen around them. One reason for their longevity is that they can be incredibly good at long-term planning. The sewers built in London following the Great Stink of 1858 are still in use today because they were designed to be twice as big as needed for the population at the time.
Now more than ever, we need this kind of foresighted thinking to confront issues ranging from the ecological crisis to threats from new technologies and even the next pandemic. Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg has called for ‘cathedral thinking’ to tackle the climate emergency: just like medieval cathedral builders, who knew that construction would never be completed within their own lifetimes, we need to start planning decades or even centuries into the future.
So which cities today best demonstrate such long-term vision and commitment to future generations? My latest book, ‘The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World’, looks at precisely that issue. Here are five cities that are currently leading the way.