One of the great demographic stories of recent years has been the urbanization of the world.
In the developing world, we’ve seen a largely rural population move to the urban areas in search of opportunities and jobs. The effect of this has been extraordinary. In 1950, the world’s three biggest cities were New York, London and Tokyo. In 2000, they were Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Tokyo. In 2050, they are predicted to be Mumbai, Delhi and Dhaka in Bangladesh.
In the developed world, it has been more a case of a return to the city, or urban renaissance. After World War II, as the suburbs boomed, the urban cores of many western cities became depopulated – and often, very run down and neglected. In the early 90s, this trend reversed. Nowhere has this been more visible than in places like London and New York. Famously, London’s 1939 population peak of 8.6 million wasn’t reached again until 2015.
In both the developed and developing world, the draws that cities exert are broadly similar. Cities offer jobs and many industries tend to cluster in them. A case in point is the technology sector’s presence in both San Francisco and Bangalore. But urban living may also be viewed as more exciting and interesting than living in the suburbs or countryside. There are not only more economic opportunities in cities, there are more social and cultural ones, too.
The pressures this influx places on cities are similar the world over (if often different in degree). They include spiralling property prices and increased pollution. Stress is placed on transport networks and infrastructure.
One approach to helping cities manage these challenges is to use technology to make our cities smarter. By this we mean bringing governments, businesses and entrepreneurs together. We mean fostering decent living conditions, affordable housing and good jobs. We mean building human cities, providing public transportation, and encouraging green spaces, walking, and cycling. And we mean building resilient cities that can cope with challenges ranging from climate change to political disruption.
Entrepreneurs and businesses are a crucial part of this. They create jobs that are key to our urban centers. Moreover, the technological disruptions they help to bring to market change the way we live and work. According to EY’s EY Growth Barometer: How is the middle market forging new strategies for growth out of seismic change?, more than 52% of entrepreneurs believe that technology is changing the world more than globalization, demographic shifts and workplace change. However 90% of them also see uncertainty as providing growth opportunities – and start-ups based in the UK are particularly positive on this.