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.

*     *     *     *     *

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, Security and Resiliency

By Nancy E. Brune

In 2008, for the first time, the world’s urban population exceeded its rural population. According to theUnited Nations estimates, urbanization will grow from about 50 percent of the world’s population today to about 60 percent by 2030. More importantly, urbanization – and its accompanying pressures – will not be evenly distributed. As illustrated in Figure 1, the urban population as the percentage of the total population has grown around the world over the last three decades; however, the urban population as a percentage of total population has risen more quickly in Latin America & the Caribbean the Middle East & North Africa, and East Asia and the Pacific.

NIC Blog – Urbanization, Security and Resiliency – Figure 1

More than 90 percent of projected urban growth will continue to occur in developing nations, fueled by increasing population and rural to urban migration.

Researchers note that, traditionally, the largest drivers of urbanization are primarily natural disasters (and increasingly ecological degradation).  War and conflict have also caused populations to flee into urban areas. Climate change and the increasing desertification of once-arable lands have also fueled rural to urban movements in recent years, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Certainly, urbanization may be the result of conflict. But it is also the case that urbanization may be associated with poor security conditions in countries. The (rapid) movement of people from rural areas to more urban (or even peri-urban) cities may exacerbate underlying ethnic and religious tensions, place pressures on weak infrastructure that is already being pushed beyond capacity, increase distributional pressures, and demand governance and better planning from governments too weak to sustain themselves.

To illustrate this claim, the author looks at the urbanization trends in the Failed States 2012 list. Interestingly, of the Top 20 Failed States, 15 of them had urban population growth rates that exceeded the global mean. (For those stats jocks, please note that the authors of the Failed States Index do not include any information on urbanization). Table 1 includes data on the countries (with their Failed States ranking) that experienced urban population growth rates that exceeded the global mean and experienced significant increases in their urban population as a percentage of the total population.

Table 1. Urbanization data for Select Countries

Country

Urban Population Growth (%)

Average

1990-2010

Urban Population Growth (%)

Global Mean

1990-2010

Urban Population as % of Total

1980

Urban Population as % of Total

2010

Cote d’Ivoire (11)

3.49

2.33

36.9

50.1

Guinea (12)

4.04

2.33

23.6

35.4

Haiti (7)

4.52

2.33

20.5

49.6

Nigeria (14)

4.46

2.33

28.6

49.8

Somalia (1)

2.78

2.33

26.8

37.4

Sudan (3)

5.23

2.33

20.0

45.2

Yemen (8)

5.69

2.33

16.5

31.8

Source: Data from World Bank Development Indicators 2012

Many of these ‘failed states’ which experienced higher urban population growth rates and increases in the urban population have direct bearing on U.S. national security interests and have received some form of (humanitarian, economic and/or military) assistance from the United States in recent years.

For example, even before the aftermath of the disastrous 2010 earthquake, the United States has had deep relations with Haiti and has provided various types of assistance while encouraging democratic and economic reforms.  Nigeria, which is the fifth largest exporter of oil to the United States, is a critical regional partner. Of growing concern are the steady bombings (reportedly perpetrated by the militant Islamic group, Boko Haram) in northern Nigeria, a region which has witnessed desertification, ecological degradation and loss of economic livelihood – conditions which have fueled north-south migration in recent decades. A failed state for a number of years, Somalia (and its Transitional Federal Government) has received various forms of U.S. assistance over the years. The U.S. is particularly concerned with the al-Shabaab Islamic insurgents, which continue to battle the Transitional Federal Government and have now extended the battlefield into Kenya, as well as the home-grown Somali pirates which continue to operate off the coast with almost complete immunity. Moving northwest, Sudan’s largest funder is the United States who has provided more than $8 billion in assistance since 2005. And finally, Yemen continues to struggle with demographic pressures, rapid urbanization, and long standing regional and political differences. In recent days, the U.S. Department of Defense has resumed the supply of counter-terrorism weapons, ammunition and communication to help Yemen’s special forces project power beyond the capital to combat efforts by al-Qaeda to “destabilize the region and both indirectly and directly harm U.S. interests.”

Managing the Challenges of Urbanization

To be clear, urbanization does not result in conflict. But, urbanization, especially rapid urbanization, in the face of underlying ethnic tensions, weak government capacity or poor infrastructure, may result in a deteriorating general security environment.

The simple analysis which hints as an associative relationship between rapid and significant urbanization and state failure (or a generally insecure, unstable environment) suggests that governments, decision makers and planning officials need to pay greater attention to how to manage the continued urbanization which is projected through 2030.

Below are three recommendations for governments and planning officials as they think about how to manage the continued urbanization in the developing world where governments are struggling with ways to provide adequate resources for a growing urban population.

1. Fund Infrastructure

Every year, approximatley 65 million people are added to the world’s urban population, equivalent to adding seven cities the size of Chicago annually. Urbanization may create challenges when the urban infrastructure does not exist to (adequately) support the addition of the influx of people.

Unfortunately, governments around the world – both developing and developed alike – are failing to exist sufficiently in infrastructure. A 2012 OECD report concluded that Latin America has “large infrastructure gaps.”  Africa also has significant infrastructure gaps – in power, roads, housing, etc.  As noted by the World Bank’s 2010 Africa’s Infrastructure Report, Africa’s power infrastructure delivers “only a fraction” of the services provided in other parts of the developing world. For instance, “the 48 Sub-Saharan Africa countries (with 800 million people) generate roughly the same power as Spain (with 45 million people).” The report also estimates that it will require $18 billion a year to build and maintain an adequate transport network that provides adequate regional, national, rural, and urban road connectivity including all road, rail, port and air networks. These infrastructure gaps are not limited to the developing world. For instance, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated in 2005 that it would take $1.6 trillion simply to make U.S. infrastructure dependable and safe.

Governments around the world should prioritize basic infrastructure funding.  In addition to helping policymakers mitigate complicated challenges of urbanization, many economists agree that “public investments in infrastructure and economic growth are inextricably linked.” As noted in the Global Trends 2030 Report, we can anticipate that technology may be a game changer and may help urban planners deal with the complex challenges posed by urbanization. Among these potential game changing solutions are: precision agriculture, water desalination, greenhouse agriculture, and renewable energy (e.g. solar technology) technologies.

 2. Integrate Resource Planning and Management 

Rapid urbanization has left policy planners struggling with ways to provide water, energy, and food and housing, as demands increase and supplies decline. In most countries, successfully addressing these resource challenges (and thus stemming urban migration) is undermined by the existence of separate administrative structures and policies for water, energy, agriculture and planning. This results in sub-optimal policies, regulations and resource management practices. Slowing the migration trends by improved agricultural, water and energy development, and other improvements, in rural regions has been completely beyond the reach of integrated planning efforts. For instance, the lack of integrated planning has contributed to the growth of informal settlements (or slums). Inadequate zoning and housing have excluded many (poor and rural migrants) from being integrated with urban development.

However, independent of additional infrastructure investments, policymakers should think about how to work more efficiently.  Specifically, governments should modernize public management systems to so as to integrate infrastructure planning and delivery of services across agencies and levels of government. International and regional financial institutions and international organizations could provide technical assistance and require integrated planning when financing any infrastructure project.

3. Build Resiliency Into Urban Infrastructure Systems

Rapid urbanization poses several challenges to urban infrastructure system. Examples include increased demand for electricity on an outdated electric grid or new urban settlements in areas that are not served by roads, water or sanitation services. In addition, climate change and natural disasters will continue to complicate the urbanization pressures faced by governments, particularly those in the developing world. Whether improving current infrastructure systems or planning new infrastructure projects, governments must build resiliency into their urban infrastructure systems.  According to theU.S. Department of Homeland Security, “Infrastructure resilience is the ability to reduce the magnitude and/or duration of disruptive events. The effectiveness of a resilient infrastructure or enterprise depends upon its ability to anticipate, absorb, adapt to, and/or rapidly recover from a potentially disruptive event.” The elements of a resilient urban infrastructure system include:

Robustness: the ability to maintain critical operations and functions in the face of crisis. This can be reflected in physical building and infrastructure design (office buildings, power generation and distribution structures, bridges, dams, levees), or in system redundancy and substitution (transportation, power grid, communications networks).  Robustness is related to the system’s absorptive capacity.

Resourcefulness: the ability to skillfully prepare for, respond to and manage a crisis or disruption as it unfolds. This includes identifying courses of action, business continuity planning, training, supply chain management, prioritizing actions to control and mitigate damage, and effectively communicating decisions. Resourcefulness is related to the system’s adaptive capacity and the notion of flexibility.

Rapid recovery: the ability to return to and/or reconstitute normal operations as quickly and efficiently as possible after a disruption. Components include carefully drafted contingency plans, competent emergency operations, and the means to get the right people and resources to the right place.

Introducing resilience into the urban infrastructure so that it can adapt to rapid urbanization (and other climate related challenges) will require urban policy planners to think about urban infrastructure as a system. Viewing urban infrastructure as a system and organizing the agencies and operations as such will allow urban planners to identify ways to build redundancy and flexibility into the larger system, thereby enabling it to respond to urbanization challenges.

While this piece concludes by discussing the importance of introducing resiliency into urban infrastructure systems, there is a larger point to be made. The authors of the draft Global Trends 2030 report entitled “Alternative Worlds” discuss several megatrends – including demographic challenges (e.g. aging populations and urbanization), the diffusion of power across countries, and the prominence of the individual in society (elevated through technology, education, improved access to health care, etc.).  Some nations may not adapt so well to these megatrends and the alternative worlds they will shape.  Others may leverage the potential opportunities. The degree of resiliency in a nation’s ‘systems’ – including infrastructure, economic structures, public institutions and social organization  — may in fact determine how will it can adapt to these alternative worlds.

Dr. Nancy E. Brune is a Non Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

By McKinsey Global Institute

A new McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report, Urban World: Cities and the rise of the consuming class,analyzes the massive wave of urbanization that is propelling growth across the emerging world in the coming decades. The research expands MGI analysis of the top 2,600 cities globally, including cities’ demographics, household structure, and incomes, and their contribution to activity and growth in different sectors, including buildings construction, port infrastructure, and municipal water supply. Highlights follow.

A wave of urbanization propelling growth across emerging economies is a welcome fillip for a world economy that continues to have pockets of acute fragility. The move to urban living is lifting the incomes of millions of people around the world. In cities, one billion people will enter the global “consuming class” by 2025, with incomes high enough to become significant consumers of goods and services. Around 600 million of them will live in only around 440 cities in emerging markets that are expected to generate close to half of global GDP growth between 2010 and 2025. We are witnessing incomes rising in developing economies faster and on a greater scale than at any time in history (Exhibit 1: NIC Blog – MGI – Urban World – Exhibit 1).

By 2025, urban consumers will inject around $20 trillion a year in additional spending into the world economy. Catering to the burgeoning urban consumer classes will also require a boom in the construction of buildings and infrastructure. We estimate that cities will need annual physical capital investment to more than double from nearly $10 trillion today to more than $20 trillion by 2025, the majority of which will be in the emerging world. How companies and governments react to the fastest shift in the earth’s center of economic gravity in history—will fundamentally shape their future prospects.

The additional consumption and investment that will be part of the urbanization story is a very large opportunity for businesses. But there will be challenges, too. The wave of new urban consumers in the emerging world is already driving strong demand for the world’s natural and capital resources. The global investment rate and resource prices have jumped and could rise further. Cities can be part of the solution to such stresses, as concentrated population centers can be more productive in their resource use than areas that are more sparsely populated. But if cities fail to invest in a way that keeps abreast of the rising needs of their growing populations, they may lock in inefficient, costly practices that will become constraints to sustained growth later on.

Urban growth is highly concentrated in just a few hundred cities and will continue to be. Our analysis suggests that just the top 600 cities by their contribution to global GDP growth to 2025—a group we call the City 600—will generate nearly 65 percent of world economic growth in this period. Today, the City 600 is home to just over 20 percent of the world’s population but accounts for nearly $34 trillion, or more than half, of global GDP. Between 2010 and 2025, we expect the City 600’s combined GDP to nearly double to $65 trillion. But the most dramatic chapter of today’s urbanization story is the role played by the so-called Emerging 440. These emerging market cities in the City 600 will account for close to half of expected global GDP growth between 2010 and 2025 (Exhibit 2: NIC Blog – MGI – Urban World – Exhibit 2).

The incomes of these new consuming classes are rising even faster than their numbers are. This means that many products and services are hitting take-off points at which their consumption rises swiftly and steeply. Growth patterns will vary among products and services for three main reasons. First, as incomes rise, consumers choose where they spend the additional available income, and some products take off at lower incomes than others. Second, products and services vary in the shape of their adoption curve and then in the rate of growth of mature, well-penetrated markets. Third, there are geographic differences in demand for cultural and demographic reasons.

Infrastructure needs will also vary between regions and among different categories. In this research, we focus on residential and commercial buildings, port capacity (due to rising container demand), and municipal water. We estimate that cities will need to construct floor space equivalent to 85 percent of all of today’s residential and commercial building stock by 2025. The capacity of ports to handle urban container traffic needs to rise by more than 2.5 times from today’s level. We expect municipal water demand in cities to rise by almost 80 billion cubic meters, equivalent to more than 20 times the water consumption of New York today and 40 percent above today’s global level.

Again, there will be differences across regions and infrastructure needs.Chinais likely to have a 25 percent share of urban municipal water demand growth and a share of nearly 40 percent of growth in global demand for urban building floor space to 2025. Africa and the Middle East will account for almost 14 percent of the global rise in municipal water demand in large cities, almost twice their share of urban GDP growth. Across all three categories, we expect Emerging 440 cities to account for roughly 60 percent of global demand growth to 2025, although the shares of individual cities will vary.

Differences between the consumption take-off points depending on the product or service underline the need for companies to understand their target markets in forensic detail. The top urban markets in different demographic segments (e.g., elderly higher income consumers; or new young entry-level consumers) as well as for different products (e.g., laundry care) and demand for commercial floor space and municipal water are all different (Exhibit 3: NIC Blog – MGI – Urban World – Exhibit 3). Indeed, on these five “hot spots” for growth, the likely top cities are in three different continents: Shanghai and Mumbai in Asia; Lagos in Africa: and São Paulo and New York in the Americas. So depending on the products they sell, and the segments in which they specialize, companies need to have a detailed knowledge of which cities offer the most promising markets.

Companies that understand the shifting urban marketplaces relevant to their businesses and build a presence early on with sufficient scale are likely to benefit from being the incumbent with better market access and higher margins. Yet, disappointingly, most companies are still not looking at cities as they calibrate strategy. A new McKinsey survey finds that less than one in five executives is making location decisions at the city, rather than the country, level—and respondents did not expect this low share to increase over the next five years. Even those companies that arm themselves with the detailed city-level knowledge to identify the most promising markets for their products then need to allocate resources efficiently and master the art of execution in diverse and rapidly evolving emerging markets.

The challenge for policy makers differs according to whether they are in cities in the developing or the developed world. In a nutshell, the task for the former is to manage growth in a way that avoids diseconomies of scale and builds the basis for sustainable economic performance. For the latter, simply maintaining a healthy rate of growth can be tough, particularly in the aftermath of recession. Many developed cities are aging and no longer attracting migrants. Instead, they have to seek new vigor from higher productivity, new business investors, and enhanced links with the urban dynamos of emerging regions.

The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) is the business and economics research arm of McKinsey & Company. Its mission is to help leaders in the commercial, public, and social sectors develop a deeper understanding of the evolution of the global economy and to provide a fact base that contributes to decision making on critical management and policy issues. MGI works with leading economists, including Nobel laureates, who act as advisors on its research.

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.