Professor Thorne recently shared her thoughts on the future of our cities and the models driving them forward. She explained how our cities are more important than ever, but are also undergoing significant change.

What’s driving the sustainable future of our cities? 

Martha Thorne, Dean of IE School of Architecture and Design, has over 12 years of experience in academia, with a focus on international contemporary architecture, cities in evolution and the changing role of the architect. She holds a Master of City Planning and a Bachelor in Urban Affairs, and has undertaken additional studies in Town and Country Planning. She also had an active career before coming to IE University and is widely published. Her experience and dedication to researching cities ideally positions her to comment on the future of our cities regarding sustainability. 

Cities are hubs for opportunity: for meaningful jobs, housing, culture, education, health and economic activity. To put it simply, cities attract people. In fact, over 50% of the global population lives in cities and this figure is increasing. 

However, cities also come with problems that will only worsen if we don’t act. They are often sites of inequality, contamination, congestion and poor urban services. They also use up 70% of our resources and are some of the biggest contributors to waste and greenhouse gases. The problem is that most cities use the extractive method—they take resources from outside the city, use them and the waste is then thrown away. 

We know cities are changing, so we need to change our view of how to solve these problems too. We can’t look at the physical, political, social or economic aspects in isolation, we have to look at them holistically. So what are our options? 

The Circular Economy 

Everything is a potential resource, so how can we use our resources in the best way? For example, we can use our buildings for different purposes throughout the day. Professor Thorne gives the example that a building could be a school in the morning, a senior citizens’ club in the afternoon, a restaurant or bar in the evening and a logistics hotel in the early hours.  

The Shared Economy 

Everything we use and create has to be within our own circle. We can’t take from areas outside the city, neither can we dispose of anything outside of the city. The shared economy will allow us to balance out our use of resources. 

New Materials

Technology means we now can make better use of the resources we have. 25% of building materials are thrown away, but we have other ways of creating and sourcing these materials that are more sustainable. 

For example, we can use recyclable materials or materials that regenerate, like wood or bamboo. We even have the technology now to take fibers from old clothes and turn them into something brand new. 

The Bottom Line

Everything we use is a potential resource to recycle, reuse and repurpose. Cities are ecosystems where everything is connected, and we need new knowledge to see those connections. 

Technology is not the answer to everything, but it can help us to understand and find a balance in those ecosystems. The next step is bringing together knowledge from different disciplines and finding new ways for our cities to be sustainable, democratic and liveable for all. 

Are you passionate about changing our cities for the better? Then the Bachelor in Urban Studies is for you.