Great cities buzz with life. They brim with opportunities. They stimulate culture, communication and creativity. They connect people. Concerts, theaters, sporting events, shopping centers, museums, art galleries, restaurants, libraries, clubs—the kinds of endeavors that can only exist where you have enough people—these are benefits that attract people to cities in droves.
A historic threshold is about to be crossed: By next year, more than half the world’s population—3.3 billion people—will live in a city. In China alone, 300 million people are expected to emigrate from the country to the city in the next decade or so. The nation estimates it will have to build 40 new cities over that period just to accommodate them.
“In human history we have never seen urban growth like this. It is unprecedented,” said Thoraya Obaid, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund. “The shift from rural to urban changes a balance that has lasted for millennia.”
The trouble is, as all human history testifies, cities also create problems. Some are new: the smog produced by concentrated use of certain modern technologies, for example, or the sterility and dinginess created by pervasive use of concrete and steel. Many, however, are as old as cities themselves: crime, poverty, unemployment, corruption. Most cities around the globe have pressing problems with infrastructure, sanitation, crime or lack of clean water. Many, particularly in the Second and Third World, are also saddled with sprawling, poverty-stricken and lawless shanty towns.
Officials working to alleviate these problems score some admirable successes in reducing pollution, increasing safety and reviving dilapidated districts. But it is generally the nature of the modern city—complex, big and boisterous, teeming with people of all stripes—to resist their efforts. The city has a life all its own; it cannot be tamed.
Famous Dutch architect and urbanist Remment Koolhaas accepts this reality. Of his industry’s efforts to renovate, plan and make cities, he says whimsically, “The certainty of failure has to be our laughing gas/oxygen.” Aware of the history of impressive ideas that failed, Koolhaas suggests that those who seek to build a better city view themselves “not as its makers but as its mere subjects.”
Are the cities of today the best we will ever see? Thankfully, the answer is no. And it comes from a surprising source.
City Planning With a Real Future
Reading the plans of great city designers can be stirring. Their descriptions of attractive parks, safe streets, bustling commerce, smartly situated industry, comfortable homes, quality schools, and lively public spaces kindle the imagination with how inviting a properly designed city could be. As they work to improve the quality of city life, politicians, architects, designers and sociologists join Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, and other sharp minds throughout history that have drafted their own plans for urban utopias.
But one also can’t help but notice the yawning gap between these abstract ideals and the reality of the cities we inhabit. In the real world, the “perfect city” remains an impossible dream. When planners move to implement their designs, they encounter a maze of obstacles: stubborn pre-existing conditions, political red tape, pressure groups, and of course, economic limitations. Environmental, aesthetic and ergonomic ideals must all yield to the fact that, in a city, space is at a premium, and many people concern themselves primarily with how much revenue that space will produce.
The most significant factor working against even the best blueprints is the unpredictability of people. A lovely plaza becomes a lonely hole if people decide not to use it. A new apartment complex for low-income residents becomes an unlivable slum if people trash it. A good neighborhood can become a drug haven if people allow it.
And the choices that determine the difference between a thriving community and a ghetto—made day after day by thousands or even millions of individuals—are an outgrowth of something far less concrete: the character of those people. The most perfectly engineered of surroundings, when inhabited by people of low character, still make for a botch of a city.
That is why there is only one place that you can read descriptions of cities that truly do inspire. This source isn’t speaking about untested theories, pipe dreams, or faint hopes that will only be crushed under the weight of reality. This source portrays great cities that, believe it or not, are about to be established. It includes spectacular details regarding design, functionality, government, food production, landscape, social and family life—and it starts by showing how to resolve the people issue in a way that will really work.
Amazing as it may sound, that source is the Bible. Spectacular prophecies about the cities of the future—cities that offer all the benefits people seek with none of the problems—abound in Scripture.
Imagine quality city life being affordable. Imagine a city providing enough stable, decent jobs that unemployment is next to nil, and everyone enjoys affluence. “… Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity …” (Zechariah 1:17, Revised Standard Version). Imagine a city devoid of run-down, impoverished slums and ghettos.
Imagine cities being crime-free. The fbi reports that 8,701,578 crimes were committed in U.S. cities last year. Including statistics for every city with at least 100,000 people, the bureau counted over 9,000 murders, 29,000 forcible rapes, 369,000 aggravated assaults, and 600,000 violent crimes—in one year. Statistics in many cities outside the U.S. are far worse.
Imagine such numbers becoming outdated. Imagine being able to walk the streets, even back alleys, at any time of day or night without fear. “[T]hey shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid” (Ezekiel 34:28). Imagine thievery, muggings, assaults and gang warfare no longer being a concern. “Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise” (Isaiah 60:18).
Imagine a healthy city environment. Studies show that living in today’s cities shaves years off your life. Three years to be precise, according to the General Register Office for Scotland. Ultra-fine pollution particles have been linked to respiratory problems, asthma and lung disease; the risk of lung cancer grows by up to 30 percent with increased exposure to burning diesel. Scientists in Washington found that pollution almost doubles the risk of dying from heart disease or stroke. Australian health officials calculate that the foul air in Sydney contributes to between 600 and 1,600 deaths each year.
Imagine city life without these drawbacks. Imagine lovely, productive gardens right in the midst of the city. “[T]hey shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them” (Amos 9:14). Imagine eating at a restaurant where fresh produce grows on site. Imagine land being allocated efficiently enough that areas exist for local animal husbandry. “[I]n all the cities thereof, shall be an habitation of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down” (Jeremiah 33:12). Imagine the pastoral serenity enjoyed only by country folk today being common in the city as well.
Widespread prosperity, secure streets, nutritious food, outdoor activity in clean air—these benefits will dramatically increase the health of the residents of tomorrow’s cities!
But how will such a metro-revolution be possible?
Solving the Source of Problems
Biblical prophecy is clear that our present civilization is about to be replaced by a far better world. Though today’s cities will be destroyed (e.g. Ezekiel 6:6; 12:20), the positive upshot is that the builders of tomorrow’s cities won’t have to compromise in order to work around what already exists; they will be able to start from the ground up. “For thou shalt … make the desolate cities to be inhabited. … And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations“ (Isaiah 54:3; 61:4).
Scripture reveals the extraordinary circumstances in which these cities will appear. After human misrule causes great tribulation that almost wipes out civilization, Jesus Christ will return to Earth to establish His rule. Before any rebuilding occurs, Christ will first resolve the problem of unconquered human nature sabotaging creative efforts. How?
Through the Prophet Ezekiel, God answers: “A new heart also will I give you …. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. … In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded” (Ezekiel 36:26-27, 33).
Yes—God will change the hard hearts of men and women, eliminating hostility, competitiveness, aggression and selfishness, and replacing it with His own nature—a basic desire to follow His law of love. The Ten Commandments will be widely observed, wiping out violence, burglary, vandalism, immorality, drug use, broken families, and a host of other social ills.
Thus, in the cities of the future, people will resist the tendency to degenerate. Instead, they will care for their families and their surroundings, take pride in their homes and their work, and treat others with respect and courtesy.
And who will preside over these cities? It would be a significant revolution just to have leaders who truly served people and refrained from corruption, bribery, cheating and imposing burdensome taxes. But God promises to do even better: Tomorrow’s cities will be ruled by spirit beings—the glorified saints of God made perfect! Read in Luke 19:12-19 and Revelation 2:26-27 Christ’s promise to appoint individuals who have already proven themselves by overcoming their human nature, and have been transformed into an immortal spiritual state. These beings will have the authority and power to enforce God’s law in order to prevent problems and to ensure that business in the city is conducted in an ethical, fair, organized manner that benefits everyone.
If you have never proven this truth from Scripture, you owe it to yourself to order a free copy of Herbert W. Armstrong’s book The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Will Be Like. It describes in vivid detail, supported by ample biblical proof, how a great many of the administrative positions in God’s coming Kingdom will likely be filled by the men and women of the Bible, resurrected to spirit life.
Once this fundamental issue is resolved, and society is composed of godly leaders ruling over a human populace unified in their desire to build harmonious, attractive communities, the real work of creating utopian cities will proceed.
One of the biggest puzzles facing city planners is the question of getting the size right. People tend to like urban opportunities and rural peace. A city needs to be a certain size to provide those opportunities—but too big, and it can become overwhelming and stressful.
The late James Rouse, the visionary developer behind Columbia, Maryland, whom Time magazine once called “the man who made cities fun again,” believed cities should fundamentally contribute to the betterment of their residents. He let that be his guiding principle when weighing in on this question. “People grow best in small communities,” he said. “A broader range of friendships and relationships occur in a village or small town than in a city; there is a greater sense of responsibility for one’s neighbor and a greater sense of support by one’s fellow man.”
Though the bustle and energy of a huge city can be exciting, studies indicate that most people tend to agree with Rouse, preferring to live in a less frenetic environment. Heavy population density has also been proven to increase aggression, which increases crime and other anti-social behavior. Today, we see a near-universal effort to escape population-dense cities in favor of suburbia. In his 2005 book Sprawl, Robert Bruegmann documented this trend; he wrote, “Polls consistently confirm that most Europeans, like most Americans, and indeed most people worldwide, would prefer to live in single-family houses on their own piece of land rather than in apartment buildings.”
The cities of the future will accommodate that desire. With one notable exception—Jerusalem, the headquarters city on Earth (which Psalm 122:3 uniquely describes as being “compact together,” probably referring to some kind of high-rises)—they will likely be somewhat small, more like today’s towns than megacities like Tokyo, New York or Shanghai. They will support the kind of balanced, moderate living and personal growth that Rouse advocated. Massive skyscrapers will be unnecessary because property will be plentiful. Scripture describes a vigorous land-renewal program: mountains being lowered, deserts being reclaimed, underwater land being raised. Leviticus 25 details a homesteading system whereby every family will own land. Micah 4:4 says, “[T]hey shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid ….” Equitable property distribution will create widespread security and fulfillment for all families.
However, don’t expect tomorrow’s cities to follow the pattern of today’s suburbs, which come with several problems: homogenous neighborhoods, automobile dependency, commuting and traffic nightmares (which decrease family time and increase pollution and auto accidents), social fragmentation, and poor health for lack of exercise, to name a few.
Biblical accounts show that future city design will avoid these traps. There will be vibrant, heavily used community spaces. The Bible describes tomorrow’s cities as being very social—“filled with flocks of men” (read Ezekiel 36:34-38). Today, cities are packed with anonymous strangers who rub shoulders but don’t interact, who then commute home to their private suburban bunkers where they remain isolated from neighbors. Tomorrow, cities will be designed to nurture a sense of community and belonging.
Notice this beautiful picture: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof” (Zechariah 8:4-5). All cities will likely pattern certain elements after Jerusalem. Clearly, some quarters will be closed to traffic, opening the door for these extraordinary intergenerational experiences. (The existence of superhighways in this world, as depicted in Isaiah 19:23, implies there being cars or something like them; they just won’t be allowed in certain urban areas.) This is a picture of attractive boulevards, with storefronts on the sidewalk, rather than being pushed away from the street and out of walking distance behind enormous parking lots. It suggests the existence of smart, efficient public transportation that people of all ages can easily use to get to the city center.
The Prophet Isaiah described this social atmosphere perfectly when he wrote, “joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (Isaiah 51:3). Jeremiah got even more eloquent: “Thus saith the Lord; Again there shall be heard in this place … even in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem … The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that shall say, Praise the Lord of hosts: for the Lord is good; for his mercy endureth for ever …” (Jeremiah 33:10-11).
These prophecies are promises from the same God who richly designed and created this exquisite planet and universe. They are certain to come to pass!
It can be difficult—though enjoyable—for our minds to conceive of a world where transportation doesn’t pollute; where families can easily access the city and yet live in their own homes on their own land; where industry operates smartly and cleanly without dominating or besmirching the landscape; where urban life is just as healthy and safe as country life. But we can rest assured that this world will soon be here. God has spoken it, and He is not one to go back on His word (Isaiah 55:11).
The question is, will you be there to enjoy it? Turn to God now, and you can do even better: You can be there to help govern it!
For more information about this soon-coming world, request The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Will Be Like.