Futurologist Dr. Stefan Carsten: What will cities be like in the future?

07. December 2022 – Katharina Schlangenotto

Dr. Stefan Carsten lives in Berlin, a city that tends to rank at the bottom when it comes to sustainable cities and living spaces. Stefan Carsten is the nice guy next door, married, two kids, and one of those cool mid-age men who just don’t care how old they “really” are. He is driven by the question of life in the city of the future. His vocation is that of a futurologist. Among other things, he works with the Zukunftsinstitut, and his hobbyhorse is the city of the future.

Stefan Carsten and the question: “How will people live together in cities of the future?

“If you look at pictures of cities from the 1960s, 1970s, even into the early 2000s, you see what it was still all about until very recently,” Stefan Carsten explains in his lectures. “We live in cities that are not at all made for our future. We still live in cities that are made on the industrial basis, monofunctional structures, living here, working there, shopping in yet another place.”

He wants to develop methods, “we how to prepare today in the here and now for a future that is better than today.” Stefan Carsten explores the ideas, opportunities and risks that need to be considered. This is about knowing how to change, being inspired, and mobilizing people and the companies.

City, mobility, space

Stefan Carsten explains that he is guided by three parameters. First, there is the city, second, mobility, and third, space, the connecting element between the two. He wants to know how the city and mobility are changing and what that does to space. He considers himself privileged because, as a futurologist, he has a head start in terms of knowledge about good living conditions. He wants to pass on this knowledge, which is why he tirelessly gives lectures and keynotes. Because he is convinced that the future begins on our own doorstep. “What I don’t have right in front of me, I don’t use. If my car is in front of my door, I get in my car. If there’s a bike or a scooter, I get on my bike or get on the scooter. That’s how simple we humans are.”

“The old urban crisis was one of decline… now we have a new urban crisis, which is in many ways a crisis of success,” said Richard Florida 2019. This sentence says nothing other than that the urbanization of the last 20 years is over. A city today finds itself in the region.”

He talks about how striking it is for him as a futurologist to “leave Germany and see what mobility and the city look like in Scandinavia, like in France, like in Switzerland. Stefan Carsten began working on the topic of cities at the end of the 1990s. Even then, the question was: how is a city conceived today, how is a city built? “There have been different fashions since then. First it was the sustainable city that people wanted to build. Then the idea of the resilient city developed. None of that has really taken off. Currently, it’s the smart city that’s supposed to define the future. But to this day, hardly any city comes close to that either.”

From private to public city: the 15-minute city

The idea of the “15-minute city is that all urban functions – urban space, cultural space, educational space, etc. – are within 15 minutes’ cycling. “How we live in cities has an extremely large impact on mobility. Mobility is made on our own doorstep, mobility takes place directly in our immediate living environment. We need to ask which actors contribute to this. I and all of us are confronted with this every day. If we understand these issues, we can find our way to a better form of society.”

“We are building for the future, for the next generations.”

“We need a spatial turnaround. A new understanding about the spaces that surround us,” said Stefan Carsten. “From industrial to knowledge-based cities. This path has already been developing for 15 – 20 years. It is already progressing, more and more places with urban quality of stay are being created, places where retail can flourish again. Examples of this are cities like Barcelona or Copenhagen with the “Nordhavn” project.

In Berlin, a bicycle path is to be created under the subway line 1, a space that connects spaces with other spaces and creates new spaces. The planning of cities, mobility and space will influence investment decisions. Lived urbanity means not only higher, but a “both and”. Stefan Carsten dreams of spaces that are healthy and active, inclusive and diverse, mobile and postfossil and flexible. It needs public We and I spaces.

Dr. Stefan Carsten

Futurologist & Urban Geographer - Expert on the Future of Mobility