Welcome to the age of fragile cities
By Robert Muggah
- Humanity is now an urban species - but a surprising number of these cities are fragile
- China, India and Nigeria will account for 40 per cent of all future city growth
- Just 123 cities are driving global prosperity. But what of the rest?
We are an urban species. Homo urbanis is actively reshaping geopolitics, economics and climate action in the 21st century.
And with good reason. While the world’s cities cover just 2 per cent of the earth’s surface, they account for 55 per cent of its population. What’s more, they generate 80 per cent of the world’s GDP and over 90 per cent of its patents. Yet they are also responsible for 75 per cent of all energy consumption and 80 per cent of CO2 emissions.
Notwithstanding rising expectations of our cities, a surprising number of them are fragile – posing a threat not just to their residents, but to nations and the global system itself.
Ours is an urban century and cities are growing in size and number. This is largely due to super-charged urbanization. Roughly two-thirds of the world’s population will live in a city by 2030, and three quarters by 2050. And the vast majority of this growth – around 90 per cent – will occur in lower-income countries in Africa and Asia.
China, India and Nigeria alone will account for 40 per cent of all future city growth. Much of this will go unnoticed – the transition of rural populations to small and medium-sized cities. But regardless of where it occurs, most new residents will be living not in shiny high-rises, but derelict settlements at the city gates.
Breakneck urbanization is giving rise to radically new types of cities that defy traditional patterns of urban geography. Old city planning models no longer apply. Consider the newest “super-city” of 130 million people that combines Beijing and Tianjin.
Or check out some of the world’s new crop of “hyper-cities” like Jakarta, New Delhi or Tokyo that assemble 20 million residents or more. Then there are the 29 or so “mega-cities” like Istanbul, Paris or Buenos Aires with at least 10 million citizens. Many of today’s large urban conurbations stretch across nation states and international borders. Some of them are rivalling nation states in power and influence.
The expansion of cities is reconfiguring global politics and economics. Most cities are connected through complex infrastructures, services and migration patterns. Today, global supply chains run through them, with many metropolises having more in common with one another than their own nation.
Cities are also forging innovative new forms of international cooperation, banding together to demand more stringent climate change commitments, support for migrant groups, and resources to fight extremism. Today there are roughly 200 inter-city networks, more than the number of inter-state associations.
The news is not all positive, of course. A minority of the world’s cities are thriving and driving growth. According to McKinsey, 600 cities are expected to generate 60 per cent of all global growth by 2025. The Brookings Institution recently estimated that 123 cities will drive international prosperity in the coming years.
But the vast majority of the world’s cities are simply struggling to keep pace – many of them are falling behind and unable to meet the rising demands of their expanding populations. These cities are not growing vertically, adopting smart technologies, or benefiting from the circular economy. Instead, they are horizontal – vast informal slums washing up on the shoals of the urban periphery.
Read more: capx.co
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