By Drew Erdmann

As the week’s discussion of urbanization closes, it is helpful to return to our starting point:  we are now living through something unprecendented in human history. For the first time most people live in cities and towns. And the pace and reach of urbanization will continue every day, every week, every month for the next two decades and beyond.

This urbanization is helping to reshape our physical and strategic landscape. The world’s economic “center of gravity” has moved more rapidly in the past decade than at any time in the past two thousand years, . Every strategist and student should again contemplate this map and its significance:nic-blog-mgi-shifting-economic-center-of-gravity2

This sort of historic change remains hard grasp, even when conveyed in such powerful graphic communications. Something more tangible is needed. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then perhaps two will be doubly powerful.

Consider Shenzhen, China, the city immediately to the north of Hong Kong and one of China’s first Special Economic Zones.  Here is a photograph of Shenzhen circa. 1990:

shenzhen-in-the-early-1990s1

Now consider this photograph of Shenzhen’s skyline taken in the past few years:

shenzen-today

Imagine the scale and pace of the change experienced in Shenzhen to move it from fields to metropolis in a matter of a few decades. Then multiply it a hundred of times over. That is what is happening around the world.

This week’s posts all highlighted the incredible stress such change will place on our economies, infrastructure, climate and environment, social relations, mores and values, institutions of government, and even our identities.  As Robert Kaplan’s influential 1994 article the ”The Coming Anarchy” argued, such stress can drive fragmentation, conflict, and decline. But at the time historian Paul Kennedy rightly cautioned against “doomsterism.” We should heed his caution today: while the profound challenges in cities like Lagos or East Saint Louis cannot be denied, there are success stories (consider again those photographs of Shenzhen’s development).

Looking toward 2030, our world will be shaped by the complex interplay of the dynamics fueled by urbanization. There will be winners and losers – between countries as well as within countries and cities themselves. Some will adapt, innovate, and blossom; others will stagnate, degrade, and wither.  Success will often be determined by how well leaders understand and act on the city as a system, as David Kilcullen argues. This will be an era defined in part by inequality and how well it is managed. We can envision ways to build more positive, innovative urban futures, as described by Brandon Fullerand Andres Cadena et al.  Yet, we can also imagine much more challenging outcomes (see other contributions on national security part 1 and part 2, and governance).  Some nation states might fragment under the strains of urbanization, while other national governments may simply decline in relevance as cities increasingly dominate the economic, social, and political lives of their citizens.  Might we be heading “back to the future” to the time before nation states when city states and other political structures reigned?  Whatever the outcome, the majority of humanity’s future will be found in cities.

Taken together, this week’s posts make clear that urbanization’s dynamics and interpedencies will pose new challenges for every country and city in the next two decades. Politicians, soldiers, diplomats, business people, urban planners, workers, and educators will all need to navigate new city streets, literally and figuratively. Capturing these navigational complexities and consequences should be a major theme running throughout the Global Trends 2030 report.

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A final word of personal thanks to all the contributors to the NIC Global Trends 2030 blog’s discussion of urbanization. These contributors offered original insights and analyses. And they offered these diverse perspectives from wherever they call home in this globalized era –  not only the United States, but also Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, and the United Kingdom. I appreciate how they responded with good cheer and great material to the request to contribute to the NIC’s dialogue aimed at improving the Global Trends 2030 report.  Thanks again!

Drew Erdmann is a Principal in McKinsey & Company’s Washington, DC office. He previously served with the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the National Security Council staff. The views expressed herein represent his personal views and do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of any organization with which he is affiliated. 

By Andres Cadena, Mike Kerlin, Jaana Remes, Alejandra Restrepo, and Henry Ritchie

Fifty years ago next month, John F. Kennedy and a group of Latin American presidents were assessing their early progress when they marked the first anniversary of the signing of the Alliance for Progress. The effort aimed to boost Latin American income, democracy, literacy, land reform, price stability, income equality, and economic and social planning. Over the past five decades, the region made significant progress in some of these areas and struggled in others.

What has changed most in the last 50 years is the playing field: from mostly rural to mostly urban. Latin America’s progress over the coming years and decades will turn on what happens in the region’s cities. It is not a coincidence that the Inter-American Development Bank has launched a Emerging and Sustainable Cities program and that Latin America already absorbs more World Bank urban development lending than any other region.

Back in the early 1960s, less than half of Latin Americans lived in cities. Now, four out of five make their lives in urban settings. That makes Latin America the most urbanized region in the world after North America. Most of the action is taking place in 198 large cities, home to 260 million people and $3.6 trillion in GDP.  McKinsey Global Institute research has found that these large cities will only get more important. 65 percent of Latin America’s economic growth to 2025 will occur in those large cities, and they’ll contribute 1.5 times more to global growth than large  These trends could easily lead the region’s cities to declare victory.

But the needs, and the opportunities, are immense.  We studied eight of Latin America’s ten biggest cities and found dramatic improvement potential in four dimensions—economic performance, quality of life, environmental sustainability, and finance and governance—of an Urban Performance Index (UPI).

The good news is that each dimension of urban performance has its standouts: Monterrey, Mexico in economic performance; Buenos Aires and Bogota in health services; Lima and Bogota in solid waste management; and Sao Paulo in urban planning. To capture their potential as engines of economic growth, each category’s laggards need to catch up, not quite as easy as it sounds.

To boost economic performance, Latin America’s cities will need to team up with federal policymakers. Less restrictive labor policies and lower tariffs on imported inputs will help manufacturers. Service sector companies will gain productivity if more join the formal sector, with the help of lower labor taxes, more compliance monitoring, and other initiatives. And the natural resource sectors can boost their productivity—for example, Latin American mines are only 30 percent as productive as their U.S. counterparts. Productivity growth will also depend on more transparent land ownership and zoning regulation, reliable urban infrastructure, and intercity transportation networks.

Capturing all this economic potential requires improvement on the other dimensions of urban performance. More efficient management of water, energy, and waste will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stave off water crises; it will also boost economic productivity and cut costs. Urban planning, congestion management, accessible housing, efficient public transportation, stronger education and better security will not only improve quality of life, but they will also smooth the way for firms to set up and expand in the region’s cities. And none of these improvements can happen without stronger finance and governance. That means increasing tax collection, managing debt more effectively, and reducing corruption, while not being afraid to expand the planning horizon and invest in critical services like housing, transportation, education, and health care.

Improvement in all of these dimensions can only truly be called progress if it extends to the neediest people in Latin American cities. The region still suffers from some of the starkest inequality in the world, and its cities are no exception.  So the agenda next era of progress must be an inclusive agenda.

To achieve a competitive, inclusive future, Latin American cities will require strategic vision, tough decisions and tight management. They will also need to build innovative models of collaboration among city governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and universities.

Fifty-one years ago, it was Latin American presidents who signed up for the Alliance for Progress with President Kennedy. Now, the mayors stand at the center of the action, and they’re off to a promising start. They recently joined their peers from around the world in the signing of the Mexico City Pact to reduce urban greenhouse gas emissions. Some have engaged with the Inter-American Development Bank’s Emerging and Sustainable Cities program, focused on excellence in mid-sized cities.

To sustain the momentum, Latin American cities—and all who help shape their fate—must recognize that, in the next five decades, their progress is the region’s progress.

Andres Cadena is a Director in McKinsey & Company’s Bogota, Colombia office and leader of McKinsey’s Public and Social Sector Practice in Latin America. Mike Kerlin is an Associate Principal in McKinsey & Company’s Philadelphia office. Jaana Remes is a Senior Fellow with the McKinsey Global Institute. Alejandra Restrepo is Practice Manager for McKinsey & Company’s Public and Social Sector Practice in Latin America. Henry Ritchie is a Principal in McKinsey & Company’s Rio de Janeiro, Brazil office. The views expressed herein represent their personal views and do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of any organization with which they are affiliated.  The McKinsey Global Institute report cited in this post is Building Globally Competitive Cities: The Key to Latin American Growth

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Urbanization and the Global Climate Dilemma

By Will Rogers 

Urbanization and climate change may be the two most important trends to shape global development in the decades ahead. On the one hand, urban cities have the potential to serve as engines of change, driving economic growth in some of the world’s least developed countries and pulling more people out of poverty than at any other time in history. On the other hand, climate change could undercut all of this by exacerbating resource scarcity and putting vulnerable communities at risk from sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms.

Today, roughly 80 percent of economic growth comes for urban centers. Much of this comes from what experts refer to as the “urban advantage:” cities typically concentrate the full spectrum of economic opportunities that are not readily available in rural areas. This includes everything from social services such as education and healthcare, more reliable access to water, sanitation services and electricity, to industries and transportation hubs that are lynchpins for commercial development.

Simply put, countries have more opportunities for economic growth as they urbanize. According to a 2010 study from United Nations Human Settlements Program, “The prosperity of nations is intimately linked to the prosperity of their cities. No country has ever achieved sustained economic growth or rapid social development without urbanizing (countries with the highest per capita income tend to be more urbanized, while low-income countries are the least urbanized).” Of course, how much a country benefits from urbanization depends on policies developed at the local level. Indeed, urban politics can make or break the benefits of urbanization if local policymakers fail to adopt policies that break down socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic and religious barriers.

Nevertheless, urbanization affords tremendous economic opportunities and most of the future benefits will accrue to the world’s developing and least developed countries. As Drew Erdmann wrote earlier this week, “For the first time in over 200 years, the majority of the world’s economic growth during this decade will occur in emerging markets, not the developed economies of the ‘West.’” This may help foster a modicum of stability in some of the world’s most unstable states, countries like Haiti, whose urban population is projected to expand from 52 percent in 2010 to 70 percent by 2030, according to United Nations statistics.

Yet climate change may ultimately undermine the economic benefits of urbanization in some parts of the world. Urban centers place substantially more pressure on natural resources than rural communities given their population density and the attendant demands on water, agricultural, energy and other resources. And although urban planners can apply innovative solutions to help manage these resource constraints – such as waste water recycling systems – climate change could exacerbate resource trends in ways that may hamper the effectiveness of these creative technologies, slowing or stalling economic growth in some of these emerging economic centers.

But the real climate challenge may stem from development in fragile areas along world’s coastlines. Indeed, many of the global megacities (those with populations over 10 million) are located on the coast: Tokyo, Jakarta, Shanghai, New York City, Mumbai, Bangkok and Lagos, to name a few. Their locations are borne out of necessity: 90 percent of global commerce is done by sea. So while urbanizing along the coastline allows countries to more easily tap into global trade, coastal cities may be vulnerable to sea level rise and more frequent and intense typhoons, hurricanes and other extreme weather events that could result from climate change.

Sea level rise could be particularly damaging to urban economic development. Surging seas can crumble coastal infrastructure, such as electricity systems and road ways, and infiltrate ground water aquifers that supply city water and support local agriculture. Moreover, sea level rise may drive up insurance rates, driving people into bankruptcy while also creating socioeconomic gaps in some cities. These challenges are not abstract or distant either: one need only look to the south of Washington, to Norfolk, Virginia, where sea level rise has already dislocated some communities, while forcing city officials to invest millions of dollars to hold back the sea near the naval station.

Typhoons, hurricanes, nor’easters and other extreme weather events may become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change and pose dangers to urban centers. The density of some coastal cities portends extreme challenges for first responders and others charged with responding to weather-related natural disasters. Indeed, the scale of these disasters could be quite staggering, and may even overstretch the capacity of emergency personnel if they are not adequately prepared to respond. Although one cannot definitively point to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina as an example of climate change, the effects of the storm provide a vivid illustration of the magnitude that such a disaster could have in a densely crowded urban community. As a result of this reality, some large cities have started examining how climate change may affect them in the coming decades. In 2010, for example, New York City published its own study from the New York City Panel on Climate Change that looked explicitly at these challenges.

Even absent climate change, it is difficult to disregard the inherent vulnerabilities associated with densely crowded urban cities, particularly those along the coast. In his book, Monsoon, Robert D. Kaplan writes that, “[N]ever before have the planet’s most environmentally frail areas been so crowded,” particularly in countries like Bangladesh, India and elsewhere, where hundreds of millions of people are packed together at or just above sea level. “This means that over the coming decades more people than ever before, in any comparable space of time save for a few periods like the fourteenth century during the Black Death, are likely to be killed or made homeless by Mother Nature,” Kaplan observes.

Looking for Opportunities

There are some opportunities that U.S. policymakers and others can pursue to help dampen the impact of potential climate disruptions on urban cities.

  • Enhancing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Training: The United States should develop more robust relationships with countries around humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to help more vulnerable countries and their cities develop the institutions, tools and procedures for responding to natural disasters. This does not have to be just traditional military-to-military cooperation either. Fire departments and other first responder organizations from U.S. cities can exchange expertise with other officials in cities around the world. And some of this is ongoing already, whether it’s around flood or wildfire response, and may just need to be scaled up.
  • Improving Climate Change Science at the Local Level: Many countries do not have the tools or techniques to assess how climate change may affect their cities. As a result, there is a significant opportunity for the United States to bolster its science and technology cooperation with countries that will enhance their understanding of local level climate impacts. The United States could leverage its National Labs and others in academia to help support and develop sound climate science that will provide better fidelity about how climate change is projected to manifest itself in urban centers. Better projections will enable cities to become more resilient, which may also help dampen political and social disruptions.

The bottom line: U.S. officials need to analyze urbanization and climate change together. These two trends have the potential to shape global development in fundamental ways in the decades ahead. Understanding how these trends may affect each other will put policymakers in a better position for adapting to potential challenges and harnessing opportunities that will become present in the future.

Will Rogers is the Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a non-partisan national security and defense policy think tank in Washington. The views expressed herein represent his personal views and do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of any organization with which he is affiliated.