As urban designers, architects and academics alike look to solve years of poor planning and ever-decreasing space in our cities, one vision for the future that pops up time and time again is the concept of a ‘vertical city’. Maximizing on space, a vertical city is a mixed use high rise building which combines all the real estate of your average town: residential, business, commercial, leisure, hospitality, food production and services. It is the direct opposite of urban sprawl, and an ultra-futuristic solution for sustainability – its proponents tend to highlight preventing the loss of green spaces and farmland and a low carbon-footprint (since all travel is vertical and there is no need for roads or vehicles) as the keys to the concept’s potential success. Two of the loudest advocates of vertical cities, architects and authors Ken King and Kellogg Wong have just premiered a short documentary, which follows their book on the same topic, with an aim of convincing the cities of the future to look up.

The striking 16 minute film depicts all the manmade problems our urbanized world is facing, and demands that those who create problems should also have solutions. “How can we create a better living environment?” asks Ken King poignantly before a slew of experts give their two-cents on the various problems caused by the urban sprawl across many of the world’s current and upcoming cities using China’s rapid and unprecedented rate of urbanization as an example of the pressing issues that need to be addressed through a new urban form.

Alongside their book and documentary, King and Wong have developed an in-depth manifesto – and it’s quite convincing. “If it is properly designed, a Vertical City provides its residents with a sense of belonging to a community and most importantly, it is easier and less costly to maintain and operate. A well designed Vertical City will address concerns in three areas – Environmental, Formal, and Socioeconomic/Political – and will achieve eight key objectives in each area.” Interestingly, the team and their advocates also include vertical urban farming as a key component of a sustainable vertical city. Their vision for sky scraper cities sees several buildings tied together by horizontal platforms that house green public spaces on the upper levels, and retail, markets and recreational facilities lower down.

While some consider vertical urban design as the only sustainable solution for the future of cities, others remain skeptical of the practicality and aesthetics.