9.5.12 | The world is urbanizing at a pace and scale that takes your breath away. In China alone, the country is undergoing the largest urban migration in human history. The rate of urbanization is happening at 100 times the scale of Britain in the industrial revolution, according to the September issue of Foreign Policy.
By 2025, the world population is expected to reach nearly 9 billion. Take a moment and let that sink in. And here’s another tidbit to grab on to: The vast majority will live in cities–many in the developing world. Our planning now will determine how sustainable those cities are for future populations.
The demands on urban areas will be astounding. Food production, energy consumption, and environmental impact– all will be irrevocably altered. China recently had an 11-day, 60-mile traffic jam. Now that’s gridlock.
Estimates are that we will likely need to increase food production by 50% to 100% to support this growing and changing population.
The “youth bulge” in Africa and other countries will send millions of young men and women into the workforce. By 2025, the top 600 cities in the world (by gross domestic product) will be home to an estimate 200 million more people of working age and account for 30% of the expansion of the potential global workforce. Without careful planning, these countries risk social unrest (witness Syria) at worst, and a colossal waste of this demographic dividend.
But it is China where the numbers astound. In the past decade alone, China’s share of people living in large cities has increased from 36% to 50%, according to Foreign Policy. By 2025, McKinsey Global Institute projects there will be 221 Chinese cities with more than 1 million people.
The Foreign Policy issue projects which cities will be the most “dynamic” by 2025, as measured by national per capita gross domestic product rates. The list is drawn from McKinsey’s Cityscope database of more than 2,650 cities. Today, just 600 cities generate about 60% of global GDP. The current giants of industry are the cities we all know: London, Toyko, New York, Chicago, among others. But by 2025, they will be joined by many new cities, 40% of them in China. As the magazine writes, “The West will not be quite eclipsed by 2025– 13 U.S. cities make the list, though only three in Europe– but the sun is indeed setting.”
The top ten cities in 2025, according to their estimates, will be:
- 1. Shanghai, China
- 2. Beijing, China
- 3. Tianjin, China
- 4. Sao Paulo, Brazil
- 5. Guangzhou, China
- 6. Shenzhen, China
- 7. New York, U.S.
- 8. Chongqing, China
- 9. Moscow, Russia
- 10. Tokyo, Japan
BRR member Ned Hill went to Guangzhou last spring and reported back on the astonishing growth underway. Foreign Policy reports that Guangzhou Province has a GDP that ranks it among the world’s 25 largest economies. The plan (or hope at this point) is to create a megacity of 42 million spread across 16,000 square miles.
One of the first things Hill noted was the cars. “We were not alone in our China-made Honda Odyssey minivan as we tour Guangzhou. There were China-made Audi A6s, locally assembled Camrys and Yaris’ from Toyota, as well as people hauling goods on bicycles, trikes, and motor scooters.” China bought 14.5 million cars in 2011 alone.
An article in today’s New York Times also takes note of the rapid rise in cars in Guangzhou and the quick response of China’s central government to get a grip on it. (That 11-day traffic jam was no doubt forefront in their minds.) They’ve created a lottery for who can own a car. “There’s a recognition finally that growth at all costs is not sustainable,” Ben Simpfendorfer, the managing director of Silk Road Associates, a Hong Kong consulting firm, told the Times.
China has built nearly 20,000 miles of expressway at a speed that gives a bureaucrat heart palpitations. (They are also falling down.) Shanghai alone, reports Peter Calthorpe in the same Foreign Policy issue, “has added some 1,500 miles of road, or the equivalent of three Manhattans. In Beijing, auto use had increased sixfold, “while bike use has dropped from nearly 60% of trips to just 17% in 2010.”
Hill also noted the rush to figure out land and property rights and the resulting asset bubble as the original owners wait for land developers to come knocking and give them the keys to a new place to live along with a sizable sum for the apartment they owned. The current dynamics of this growth machine, he says, are not much different than in Las Vegas.
Yet China is also at the forefront of innovations to stem the environmental impact. One of the most intriguing, as reported in “Cities of the Future” is a traffic-jumping bus.
The bus slides straddles freeway traffic. Passengers sit in the top half of the structure and the bottom half is open, allowing it to pass over the stalled traffic. They’re also developing high-speed rail at a blistering pace. Their newest bullet train reaches a maximum speed of 311 miles per hour. And in a truly futuristic option, they are working on a design that allows passengers to board without the train stopping. Something about sitting in a pod poised above the top of the train, and as the train whisks by, it grabs the pod.
Perhaps this is where the 21st century “race to the moon” should happen: who can build the most energy-efficient way of transporting people quickly and safely.
One thing is certain: Cities will continue to dominate our imaginations, draw millions to their jobs and opportunities, and remain the engines of commerce and productivity. We will need much more focused attention to cities as the world urbanizes–despite the Republican platform.
As the New Republic writes,
“An official plank in its platform, accus[es] the Obama administration of ‘replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.’ Shades of Chairman Mao!”
In spite of this platform, the world will have to turn its focus to cities in newer, and smarter, ways.
Photo credits: Joi Ito, Shanghai, and Shenzhen Huashi Future Parking Equipment