The city of the future

According to the United Nations’ estimates, 2007 was the first year in which more people around the world lived in urban areas than in rural ones.

May 20, 2021

modern city


  • Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in cities. The United Nations predicts that number will be as high as 70% by 2050.1
  • Global cites take up 3% of the Earth’s surface, but they are responsible for 60% to 80% of energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions.2
  • Cities are major consumers of energy. This is also seen in the worldwide consumption of primary energy in 2019. China used just under 142 exajoules, making it the largest consumer worldwide. Other major energy consumers include the US (94.65 exajoules), with India (34.06 exajoules) and Russia (29.81 exajoules) following far behind. By comparison, Switzerland consumes 1.12 exajoules.3

Urban–rural distribution


United Nations’ forecast of urban–rural population distribution4


  • By 2030, the world will have as many as 43 megacities with over 10 million inhabitants. Until 1975, there were only three megacities: New York, Tokyo, and Mexico City.
  • The majority of megacities, a total of 27, will be located in Asia in 2030. The United Nations predicts three of them will be found in Europe: London, Moscow, and Paris.
  • Megacities were spread out over the globe in 2018. By 2030, they will be mainly situated in developing countries. In industrialized nations, urbanization is almost complete and shifting to the southern hemisphere. Today, approximately 80% of people in industrialized nations already live in cities.5

Size of cities

  • Tokyo is the world’s biggest city, with a metropolitan area consisting of 37 million inhabitants, followed by New Delhi with 29 million, Shanghai with 26 million, and Mexico City and São Paulo, each with roughly 22 million residents.
  • Every week, 1.4 million people around the world move into cities.

Population density by country7
Inhabitants per square kilometer


Population density by city and urban region8
Inhabitants per square kilometer

Silver cities

  • People around the world are living longer. According to projections, just under 2.5 million people in Switzerland will be over the age of 65 in 2040. In 2018, that number was around 1.5 million people.9
  • The increase in life expectancy is posing new challenges to countries such as China. While in excess of 151 million people in China were over 65 in 2018, forecasts indicate that number is expected to more than double by 2040, leaping to over 343 million.10
  • An aging urban population requires new infrastructure and mobility planning. More mobile service and infrastructure offerings are being created. This trend is also impacting residential models and living arrangements. In the US, towns have already been established where residents have to be over the age of 65 to move in. Another form is the integrated, multigenerational household in which young and old live under one roof.

Guaranteed quality of life


Top ten ranking of cities with the highest quality of life in 201911

There is no way to imagine today’s cities without coliving, cohousing, coworking, comobility, and cogardening. The sharing economy has taken hold, with corresponding effects on cities. In the future, there will be more multifunctional residential and living spaces that intelligently link private areas with common areas, creating a high quality of life.

  • The public transportation of the future will adapt to the needs of passengers. It will be possible to request self-driving buses by smartphone, and the bus stops will be where passengers actually need to get on and off.
  • Private transportation will also become automated. Cars will drive themselves, allowing commuters to carry out other activities during the trip.
  • Smart transportation management will ensure the safe and efficient flow of traffic. There will no longer be any permanently installed traffic signs or traffic lights. The network will recognize bottlenecks and redirect road users automatically.

Aiming high 


Cities are not only growing larger, but also higher.
1. Jeddah Tower (under construction), Saudi Arabia
2. Burj Khalifa, UAE
3. Shanghai Tower, China
4. Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower, Saudi-Arabia
5. Ping An Finance Center, China

Single households versus multi-person households

Being single has surpassed raising a family as a model for society. In 1919, over 50% of Swiss people lived in a household with five or more people, and only 12% lived alone or with one other person. As of 2019, the figure for the latter group was almost half (46%).12 This trend will continue to accelerate. According to forecasts, over 70% of Swiss people are expected to be living in one-to-two-person households by 2045. Residential planning is being adapted as a result because smaller apartments are more in demand than ever before.


Smart cities

Connectivity is crucial to the city of the future. Urban systems and infrastructures are connected to one another and share information in real time. Resources are used where they are actually needed – whether that is in waste disposal, traffic management, energy and water supplies, or healthcare. Trash is picked up as soon as the garbage can is full. Cars find available parking spaces on their own. Connected surveillance cameras ensure more urban security, and buildings allow rooms to be occupied depending on air quality.


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Source: Credit Suisse, unless otherwise specified.

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