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Rethinking Urban Spaces: How will Affinity Cities Shape the Future of Work and Urban Planning?

In the ever-evolving landscape of urban planning, a new paradigm is emerging: affinity cities.

These cities are designed around specific themes, values, or industries, attracting like-minded individuals and businesses to create vibrant and cohesive communities. Two notable examples are Neom's "The Line" and 'Californian Forever'.

Info sheet for Aquellum, a futuristic lifestyle community within a mountain haven .
Aquellum, a futuristic lifestyle community within a Saudi mountain haven

Whilst it creates an incredible opportunity to design a new vibrant city from scratch, there are concerns about the impact on the environment and economic subsidies large corporates or developers receive.

Cities competing for Corporates

For decades, state and local governments have lured big businesses to their communities with lucrative tax breaks in exchange for the promise of new jobs and economic activity. This raises the debate whether cities are functioning in the interest of their citizens, or giving handouts to large multinationals that could likely fund their ventures - but choose not to.

Amazon HQ Case Study

Between 2000 and 2022, Amazon has received more than $5 billion in subsidies as part of deals with communities to build fulfilment centres.

Amazon HQ2 is a corporate headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, that has been the subject of controversy. Announced in 2017, Amazon sought proposals from cities offering tax breaks and incentives to entice the company. Over 200 cities submitted bids, and Amazon ultimately selected Arlington and Long Island City, New York, as the locations for HQ2.

However, the project faced significant opposition in New York City, and Amazon cancelled the Long Island City location in 2019. Critics argued that the project was an example of corporate welfare and that the tax breaks and incentives offered by cities were excessive.

Despite the controversy, Amazon HQ2 remains a major expansion for the company, with Phase I opening in 2023 and Phase II currently under construction. The project is expected to bring thousands of jobs and economic benefits to the Arlington area.

Relocating a capital city

As an Australian, Canberra is an interesting capital city given its selection as Australia's capital was the result of a compromise between Sydney and Melbourne, the two rival cities vying for the honour. To appease both sides, the new capital would be built in New South Wales, but at least 100 miles from Sydney. This led to the selection of Canberra, a rural area that met the criteria and became the national capital in 1908.

Jakata to Borneo - Indonesia

Indonesia is relocating its capital from Jakarta to Nusantara in East Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo. This move is driven by several factors, including Jakarta's overpopulation, environmental degradation, and air and water pollution. The new capital aims to be a sustainable city with a focus on environmental protection and carbon neutrality.

A new presidential palace with curved roof like a crown and green space/roofes
An artistic impression of Indonesia’s new presidential palace, designed by the artist Nyoman Nuarta.

The relocation process involves the construction of Nusantara - an old Javanese term meaning “archipelago”- which will entail constructing government buildings and housing from scratch, and the relocation of over 1.5 million civil servants from Jakarta. However, the project has raised environmental concerns, primarily due to the deforestation required for the city's construction and the potential impact on endangered species and Indigenous communities in the area.

Despite these concerns, the Indonesian government maintains that the relocation is necessary to address the challenges faced by Jakarta and to create a more sustainable and livable capital city for the future.

Neom's "The Line"

A Visionary Urban Megacity

Neom's "The Line" is a proposed 170-kilometre-long linear city in Saudi Arabia that aims to be a sustainable, innovative, and economically prosperous urban centre. The city's unique design and focus on technology have garnered praise, but it has also faced criticism regarding its cost, environmental impact, social implications, and human rights concerns.

The Line is designed to be a sustainable city, powered by renewable energy and featuring green spaces and efficient transportation systems. It seems to be an attempt to diversify the economic landscape of Saudi Arabia, aiming to be a hub for innovation and technology, attracting businesses and researchers in fields such as artificial intelligence and robotics.

However, Neom has been criticised for its lack of transparency and its displacement of residents and treatment of workers involved in the project, raising human rights concerns. Some critics also argue that the project's massive scale and construction could have significant environmental impacts, including habitat loss and disruption of wildlife.

Whether The Line's linear design and emphasis on technology will create a socially cohesive and inclusive community remains to be seen.

Californian Forever

A Community-Driven Urban Oasis

Californian Forever aims to be a sustainable, inclusive, and innovative city in the Mojave Desert. It plans to prioritize renewable energy, affordable housing, and public transportation. However, the project will face challenges regarding water scarcity, economic viability, environmental impact, and lack of community involvement.

An illustration of a downtown center with people sitting and walking around with various buildings, a food truck and structures on display.
A rendering of the downtown centre in the new city California Forever is proposing to build in Solano County. (source: California Forever)

The Mojave Desert is a water-scarce region, and critics question whether Californian Forever can sustainably meet the water needs of its residents. The project is also estimated to cost billions of dollars, with the construction and operation of the city likely to lead to habitat loss and disruption of wildlife.

Recently two federal lawmakers voiced their opposition and local leaders continue to raise concerns about its impact on national security, water supply, and public transit infrastructure. Despite the company's assurances, local officials remain sceptical of the project's viability and transparency. Californian Forever remains an ambitious project with the potential to create a sustainable, inclusive, and innovative city outside (but not too distant) to Silicon Valley. Only time will tell whether the project will live up to its promises or fall short of expectations.

The Future of Community-Built Cities

The rise of affinity cities and the trend of corporate subsidies raise intriguing questions about the future of urban development.

Could communities take the initiative to build and establish new cities from scratch? Could this be a catalyst for increasing housing supply and affordability?

  • Crowdfunding and Community Investment: With the advent of crowdfunding platforms and the growing popularity of community-driven initiatives, it is conceivable that communities could pool resources to finance the development of new cities.

  • Open-Source Urban Planning: Advancements in technology and the availability of open-source tools could empower communities to design and plan their cities, tailored to their specific needs and values.

  • Government Support and Partnerships: Governments could play a supportive role by providing land, infrastructure, and regulatory frameworks that encourage community-led urban development.

Despite COVID and hybrid working increasing the ability to live further from the office, the majority of cultures still choose to reside in cities. Over time we may witness the emergence of new cities built from scratch by communities themselves. These cities have the potential to create vibrant, sustainable, and inclusive communities that meet the needs of the 21st century and beyond.

Would you want to live in Neom or California Forever?


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