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In a fast-changing world, can cities be built with long-term perspective?

By 2050, at current rates of urbanization, the world will be two-thirds urban and one-third rural. Most of that growth will occur in Asia and Africa. Those regions are expected to receive an additional 1 million inhabitants every week for the next 40 years.

Cities face different challenges

While most urban expansion will take place in Asia and Africa, cities across the world are in different states of development and face different challenges.

New cities are being built from the ground up in rapid growth regions

Greenfield urban experiments in Asia, Africa and the Middle East are serving as test beds for addressing environmental and sustainability challenges. Some of China’s newer cities, such as Zhengdong New District, are beginning to fill up, suggesting that what were termed ghost cities by the international press were actually just cities slowly coming to life.

While planned urbanization has its challenges, unplanned urbanization in these regions has its costs as well. Subsisting on informal economies, some slums have become ungoverned and unserved cities within cities. The idea of inclusive urbanization, whereby all citizens share in the benefits, is gaining traction but will require political commitment and innovative mechanisms.

Mature cities must upgrade or replace infrastructure

Policymakers and the public have tended to favor new projects, but maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure is also essential. Extracting additional value from existing assets, whether through optimization or creating new revenue streams, can be an alternative to building new infrastructure.

Innovation is at the heart of the cities of the future

Innovation is helping to solve the challenges cities face. Urban residential and commercial customers are generating more of their own energy and getting more of their power from distributed renewable sources. The Internet of Things holds promise for cities to become “smarter.” Innovation to reduce the cost curve of infrastructure is helping cities to become sustainable and more habitable.

Public-private partnership will be the foundation of the urban world

Successful urban solutions will entail public and private cooperation. Meeting the challenge will require the creativity and investment of the private sector alongside the long-term vision and funding of the public sector, as well as a dedication to inclusive growth.

Cities are set to become as powerful as nations

Within decades, cities are likely to become as powerful, if not more so, than nations themselves. Local city governments are better positioned to understand the specific needs of citizens and tend to be pragmatic (and less driven by raw politics) in their approaches to urban challenges.

The potential for megacities to emerge as the world’s most important economic entities will have profound effects on future geopolitics, governance, and corporate plans.

How can cities become big and successful, not just big?

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