In a recent trends report presented by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), learning from other cities could be the answer in overcoming city challenges.
Whether a city resides in a developing country or not, there have always been similar struggles with the urbanisation of populations. Cities have always and will continue to face very similar challenges including transport, housing, migration, infrastructure, international security, inequality, pollution and employment.
Most megacities have populations larger than some European countries and the latest predictions state that nearly two thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. With more people inhabiting a city, intensity and pressures rise as well as the opportunities for improvement. In recent years, 70% of GDP growth in Japan took place in their largest cities, highlighting the economic strength in cities and urban conurbations.
If we think about cities as individual states, could this be a helpful platform for them to develop and adapt to growing and ageing populations? Transport is a good example of how cities can learn from each other and improve. Today there are over 150 metro systems worldwide following in the footsteps of the London Underground that started in 1863. Thinking about the upcoming night tube service, where five tube lines will run for 24 hours on a Friday and Saturday, London will become one of only seven cities to run such a system. This will allow London to support its reputation of being a ’24 hour city’ and set the example for other cities to jump on board and follow suit.
Some issues are far more relevant to a city than the rural countryside. Security, terrorism, transportation, education and health care are matters that will continue to have more time and money spent on them to protect the growing population in years to come. Collaboration with international cities is crucial for them to prepare and keep ahead of the curve.
With this idea of individual states in mind, could there be more autonomy for cities? Could we see more city-states developing? Italian city-states were a political phenomenon during their renaissance and Singapore, a modern day example has developed very quickly and efficiently, as have many of the Gulf states. Of course, it would be a hard and slow process to separate cities from nation states but inputs from the private sector, economies, continued globalisation and national politics will undoubtedly play a part.
The flip side to this is that on almost every practical level, cities are not self sufficient as they cannot independently feed themselves yet. Traditionally urban regions rely on the majority rural nations for their food and water supplies and this pressure is clearly beginning to show. But who says innovation, collaboration and city ‘greening’ would not be able to unlock this natural imbalance... watch this space.