The First Five Centuries

Any discussion about decline in the US should look to Britain for historical guidance.

Like the US, Britain started from a position of technological leadership and absolute economic preeminence.  As the technologies diffused, it was doomed by its small population to relative decline. Even if it had maintained its leadership in terms of income per capita, its total GDP would inevitably be eclipsed by GDP in US, just at GDP in the US will surely be surpassed by GDP in China.

Britain has, nevertheless, remained a world leader. It has an asset that GDP can’t buy.

Gordon Brown once observed that in establishing the rule of law, the first five centuries are always the hardest. Does this mean that each country follow this same slow path?

Of course not. The Privy Council now acts as the court of appeal for many nations in the Commonwealth. They retain local executive and legislative capacities, even their existing legal traditions. But through this arrangement, younger nations get instant access to a credible form of judicial independence. The new debate in Britain asks whether this arrangement could voluntarily be extended beyond the Commonwealth. See, for example, the discussion about Honduras’ preparation to send appeals to the Privy Council.

This debate has opened up because of efforts in Honduras to develop a new city-scale reform zone. (For more on this strategy, as highlighted in Brandon Fuller’s recent post.) The conjecture is that Britain could encourage in other places the kind of development that it spurred in Asia by fostering an outpost of British law in Hong Kong.

If, indeed, the rule of law is among the most important human inventions, the UK could continue to exert for decades — perhaps forever — an outsized influence on world affairs. All it needs to do is keep encouraging the spread of its most important invention.

Paul Romer is Professor of Economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business and Director of its Urbanization Project. The Urbanization Project addresses a truly historic challenge and opportunity: welcoming an additional 3 – 5 billion people to urban life in less than a century.

Urbanization’s Implications for Governance

So far, this week’s blog has featured discussions of overall urbanization dyanmics and their potential economic and national security (part 1 and part 2) implications. Now we turn to governance. Humanity’s rapid movement to cities in the coming two decades will inevitably challenge governance structures around the world.  These three contributions share a commimtent to this foundational conclusion, but they then derive from it different possible futures.

In “Citizens of Cities Not Nations – Implications of an Urban World for Government,” Jonathan Woetzel of McKinsey & Company and Co-Chair of the Urban China Initiative suggests that our primary political identities may shift from nation states to our cities.

In “Urbanization as Opportunity,” Brandon Fuller of the NYU Stern Urbanization Project offers an optimistic image of cities’ future through successful urban planning.

In “Urban Growth, Inequality, and Telecommuting,” Xenia Dormandy of Chatham House highlights the importance of inequality — and perceived inquality — between and within countres for future governance.

By Jonathan Woetzel

An urban world is a fundamentally different place with implications for governance, environment, and technology, not just demography. In some ways this will be a “back to the future” experience. Conurbations are the original unit of social organization dating from Gilgamesh and the warring states of China. Technology development, notably large-scale agricultural engineering, led to imperial bureaucracies and the amalgamation of these clusters into what became nation-states. However, cities have always been the centers of civilization. By 2050 the scale and density of these clusters relative to the whole of humanity will be unprecedented.

The implications go well beyond demographics. In an urban world there is no longer a rural reservoir. Impacts of social crises no longer roll slowly through the countryside, sometimes to peter out unnoticed by the rich and powerful. Rather events explode, demanding immediate responsive governance. Humanity’s most pressing security threats will be urban in nature with the advent of bioterror and pandemics. Environmental pressures will be immediate as urbanites struggle to adapt to a volatile context with rising weather uncertainties, extended global supply chains, and mounting waste and water challenges. On the positive side, innovation hubs will drive scientific development. The correlations between technical productivity and density are clear. Geoffrey West’s work notes that with urban scale we get 1.2 times everything – patents, economic growth, crime. The basis is network effects as in an urban context we get to share it all – the good, the bad and the ugly.

The winners will be those urban leaders who are most effective at building cohesive, integrated, sustainable clusters. National governments that stand in the way of these clusters will fall behind as the costs of their inefficient health plans and outdated military machines mount. Successful clusters will have the scale to fend for themselves politically, economically and environmentally in an atomized landscape. Accountability will be a first marker of their potential. Recognizing the complexity of federal, state and local interactions, cities that have gained an increased measure of local responsibilities for both income and expenditures will be more successful in making change happen. Effective local leaders can enable local clusters to form, incorporating externalities in a planned way, enfranchising minorities, and developing integrated city plans. Key tools include the use of big data, empowering city employees, and long-term professional financial management.

Successful cities are the future – there is no other model for human development. The urban world will be one in which we will be first and foremost, citizens of cities.

Jonathan Woetzel is a Director in McKinsey & Company’s Shanghai Office and Co-Chair of the Urban China Initiative (http://www.urbanchinainitiative.org). The views expressed herein represent his personal views and do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of any organization with which he is affiliated.

Urbanization as Opportunity

By Brandon Fuller

“Without cities we would all be poor.”

- Jane Jacobs, The Economy of Cities

If Jacobs was right, and there’s good reason to believe that she was, the world in 2030 stands to be a much better place. According to UN estimates, the urban share of the world’s population will grow from just over 50 percent in 2010 to 60 percent in 2030. The vast majority of this urbanization will occur in the developing world, where urban areas are expected to add another 1.3 billion people by 2030.

There are two ways to accommodate this influx of urban residents: expand existing cities or build new ones. In both cases, weak and ineffective governance poses a significant challenge to successful urbanization. The graph below shows the negative relationship between a country’s score on the Rule of Law Index and its expected average annual rate of urban growth over the next four decades.

At the NYU Stern Urbanization Project (UP), we’re focused on urban growth strategies that account for the conditions of governance in the developing world. One initiative, led by Paul Romer, focuses on new cities — particularly the potential for new cities to advance reform and improve choices for urban migrants. Another initiative, led by Solly Angel, focuses on urban expansion.

Urban Expansion

With growing numbers of urban migrants, the physical expansion of developing world cities is inevitable. If incomes continue to rise relative to transport costs, the trend toward expansion will be even stronger. Such expansion needn’t be unsustainable. Because urban densities in the developing world are more than double those of Europe and Japan, they can decline considerably without inducing the sorts of suburban sprawl associated with land-rich developed countries like the United States.

Cities in developing countries should come to terms with urban expansion. Ignoring it won’t stop it. People will continue to arrive in an uncoordinated fashion, excluded from the formal sector and consigned to congested slums. Some planning will be necessary. But given the massive scale of urbanization and the governance constraints that characterize much of the developing world, overly intricate planning efforts may be just as likely to fail as no plan at all.

UP advocates for a lighter touch approach, one in which governments consolidate land for public space and arterial roads based on realistic forecasts of urban expansion. This approach ensures corridors for public service provision and effectively coordinates the private decisions that comprise the majority of urban development. By spacing arterial roads 1 kilometer apart the city can make public transport accessible to everyone; by making room for expansion the city can ensure that the supply of housing remains ample and affordable.

New Cities

Political risk in the developing world remains a key bottleneck to what would otherwise be relatively high-return investments in urban infrastructure. Policy innovations that mitigate political risk can channel enormous amounts of foreign investment into rapidly growing cities; investments that would in turn offer billions of people opportunities to work their way out of poverty. UP believes that charter cities—new cities built in special reform zones—offer a promising way to mitigate political risk and drive reform in the developing world.

The first country to adapt the charter cities concept to its development strategy was Honduras, a country whose urban population is expected to more than double in the next few decades. Seeing this urbanization as an opportunity for reform, the Honduran government established a new legal entity known locally as la Región Especial de Desarrollo (RED).   

Though part of sovereign Honduran territory, the RED will be largely autonomous. Critically, the RED will also have the power to partner with credible foreign allies, such as Canada and Mauritius, on core government functions including policing, jurisprudence, and a range of public service provision. Such partnerships can strengthen the rule of law in the RED, attracting investors, generating jobs, and providing safe new options for the millions of people in the region who currently lack them. The Honduran government believes that reform in the RED can complement the process of reform and reconciliation elsewhere in the country.

Enhancing Global Stability and Growth

Looking forward to 2030, UP is optimistic about the prospects for urbanization to enhance global stability and buoy trade and investment flows. We believe that inclusive urban planning strategies, grounded in the understanding that urban expansion is inevitable, are more likely to result in cities that are accessible, affordable, and peaceful. We also believe that new cities, based on innovative models of international cooperation, have an important role to play in driving reform, unlocking high-return investment opportunities, and improving the choices of urban migrants.

Brandon Fuller is a Research Scholar with the NYU Stern Urbanization Project.

By Drew Erdmann

The 2012 London Olympic Games will begin later this month. While the world will focus on sport, this Olympic Games also reminds us that the cities of the world are in constant competition as well. The history of 2012 London Olympic Games will be as much a story of the City of London’s effort to remain a leading, globalized city in the 21st Century as about the Gold Medal winners. We see this in the aspirations for the redevelopment of London’s East End to the “re-branding” of London as a global hub for commerce and services to innovations in reusable and environmentally friendly venue design. London’s success is by no means inevitable. The Economist recently described London as both “the world’s most international city” and “a precarious brilliance.” Other rising cities are challenging London and Western cities for economic, cultural, and political influence. Symbolically, the London Games follow the 2008 Beijing Games and precede the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. Although costly, the Beijing Games introduced the new Asian superpower to many in the world, and the Rio Games will undoubtedly help mark Brazil’s rise on the global stage as well.

The competition among such cities will continue in the decades ahead. The overall “megatrend” of increasing urbanization is clear, i.e., the world is becoming more urbanized literally every day. The implications are less clear. The blog’s objective for this week, therefore, is to explore the urbanization trends that will help define humanity’s history in the next twenty years and their implications for economics, governance, and security. Cities like London, Beijing, and Rio will be important characters in this history. Perhaps even more important, however, will be the host of new urban centers that are rising rapidly throughout the developing world.

This week’s blog hopes to provoke discussion and raise questions as much as provide answers. And the blog will feature diverse contributors to help stimulate this discussion. Picking up on Steven Weber’s plea to readers from 2 weeks ago, please take advantage of the “leave a reply” link to contribute to the discussion. The more voices and points of view the better!

Here are six observations to help jumpstart this week’s discussion of urbanization.

First, the pace of this era’s urbanization is unprecedented and it is already one of the most important forces reshaping the world. A future historian will likely point to the year 2008 as a historic turning point – not only because of the Beijing Olympics, but also because 2008 marked thefirst year in humanity’s history when a majority of people lived in towns and cities. As Edward Glaeser’s recent The Triumph of the City (2011) underscores, cities are one of mankind’s greatest creations, the centers for innovation, the prime drivers of economic development, and, as such, they will continue to attract hundreds of millions of the world’s poor as they seek a better life. The scale and pace of this change is hard to grasp. Around 1.3 million people will migrate to cities and towns every week for the next two decades, according to United Nations statistics. Most of this movement will continue in emerging markets, but transnational flows will be important as well.

Second, urbanization is driving the rebalancing of global economic power toward emerging markets, especially in Asia. This movement of people is a major driver of the rapid economic growth experienced in countries around Asia as well as parts of Latin America and, increasingly, Sub-Saharan Africa. Just as the developed economies of the West did decades ago, emerging markets are now capturing the huge productivity gains that cities’ concentration, economies of scale, and innovation afford and that. The implications are profound. 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.”

Third, urbanization and the rise of new middle classes are two sides of the same coin.Estimates suggest there will be by 2025 more than 1 billion new consumers with incomes sufficient to purchase consumer goods beyond those needed for subsistence. More than 95% of these new “middle class” consumers will live in emerging market cities. Likewise, the majority of new high-income households – with annual incomes of over $70,000 (in terms of Purchasing Power Parity) – will be found in emerging market cities. This massive increase in urban consumers will drive a corresponding increase in demand for a full range of products and services from home appliances to telecommunications to automobiles to recreation (e.g., dining out, travel). New middle class consumer demand in emerging cities will thus be a major force in the global economy. This demand will, in turn, reshape business strategies, supply chains, talent and capital flows, and potentially regulatory regimes.

Fourth, urbanization will place unprecedented strains on resources and societies. If the pace and scale of the new cities’ growth in population and wealth is staggering, the resources required are no less so. Infrastructure investments will need to soar to keep pace. The McKinsey Global Instituteestimates that new physical capital investments in cities will need to increase over $10 trillion per year by 2025. That is equivalent to more than the combined current economies of Japan and Germany! The demands on natural resources and the environment will also be historic in scale and scope. At the same time, because cities can be relatively efficient, increasing urbanization does afford opportunities for improved resource productivity as well.

Fifth, urbanization will stress governance at all levels – local, national, and international. This is a corollary to the preceding observation. For instance:

  • Local and national governments the world over will struggle to provide basic services to burgeoning urban populations while maintaining some reasonable fiscal boundaries.
  • New middle classes will make demands upon their governments. We will likely see new middle classes in some countries seeking to extend their economic clout to greater political influence. At the same time, there is no inevitable alignment of interests among middle classes across national boundaries (i.e., an “outsourced” American job may be a stepping stone to the middle class for someone in Asia).
  • The flow of peoples from countryside to cities, and between countries, will pose their own challenges for governance at all levels (see, for instance, the recent Global Trends 2030 Blog entries related to migration).
  • The vast resources required to sustain urbanization will not only influence global markets in important commodities, but also place new strains upon governments. Consider, for example, the challenge of water scarcity in China. Given current trends, some basins within China will remain in surplus in the coming 20 years, while others will likely confront significant gaps between supply and demand. How will the Chinese government manage its water resources across its different regions? Many other governments will face analogous resource dilemmas.
  • Increasing urbanization, combined with this era’s global interconnectivity, will challenge how individuals define their own identities. Will people think of themselves first as citizens of a particular city or a country or a transnational Diaspora community? Or, as Chrystia Freeland suggested in The Atlantic last year, will we see the rise of a “new global elite”? Such a cosmopolitan elite could live inside gated communities – whether in Florida or Rio or Johannesburg – and share common education, experiences, and values with others of the same jet set class, but little with “fellow citizens” of their respective countries of origin. This could be an era defined by struggles to reduce inequality.

Sixth, urbanization will challenge our traditional approaches and tools for national security.The 20th century experiences of the Second World War and the Cold War, for example, still heavily influence the United States’ diplomatic footprint, alliance relationships, and intelligence capabilities. The 21st century’s rise of new urban centers in the developing countries and concomitant shift in economic power are already challenging these institutional legacies. Alliance relationships will be redefined and new ones forged. New capabilities will be needed. Diplomats will need to be deployed in new cities and able to engage with new kinds of players. Militaries around the world will need to prepare to operate even more in urban environments.

In sum, how well leaders around the world in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors comprehend this new wave of urbanization, identify its manifold implications, and then adapt institutions, norms, and practices to harness its potential will have a profound impact on the trajectory of international development, peace, and security in the coming 20 years.

Drew Erdmann is Principal in McKinsey & Company’s Washington, DC office. He previously served with the Department of State, the 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.