View from the 2012 Cities Summit

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 Finally, with just under 2 hours remaining in scheduled programming, Dr. Jaana Remes, Fellow of the McKinsey Global Institute clambered up into the crow’s nest, pointed the telescope in the right direction, and brought the future and the summit sharply into focus. For this observer, Dr. Remes was   the Cities Summit.

 ‘Urbanism,’ as the West now understands it, cannot be divorced from the rapidly shifting centre of gravity of the global landscape and economy.

 Cities in emerging markets are becoming the world’s powerful economic driver, concurrently re-balancing the distorting effects of the Industrial Revolution and opening a dangerous new chapter in history.

 As Remes outlined, from the dawn of recorded history until the Industrial Revolution (and, it should be added, the colonial period), China and India dominated the world’s trade and productivity--contributing most of global GDP up to and beyond 1500 AD. Today that output is dwarfed--down to 10 per cent of global GDP by the mature developed economies of the West.

 But all that is changing.

 China and India’s share of global GDP will triple by 2050, while the West’s share will shrink by almost one half.

 Local debate about the design implications and cost projections of Vancouverism’s tower/podium model pales in the face of the following:

  • Urbanization and development in the emerging markets, particularly China, is occurring at 100 times the scale and 10 times the speed of post-Industrial Revolution growth in the West--a force unparalleled in human history.

  • The world’s 600 largest cities, with 20 per cent of the world’s population, currently contribute over $30 trillion--more than half of global GDP.

  • By 2025 this output will reach $64 trillion.

  • By 2025 136 new cities will enter the top 600 list--all of them from the emerging markets, and overwhelmingly from China. One in three of the developed market cities will falter and drop from the list.

  • These 600 cities will contribute 60 per cent of the world’s global growth. Two-thirds of them are in emerging markets.

  • By 2025, only one city from the developed markets, New York, will be in the top 10 global cities for GDP growth. The other nine will be in China.

 But according to Remes, the real story lies deeper--the impact of middle-weight cities in emerging markets--those with populations between 150,000 and 10 million. These cities are poised to deliver a startling 40 per cent of total global GDP growth by 2025--more than the entire developed world and emerging market mega-cities combined.

In the process these cities will lift hundreds of millions out of poverty and into the middle class, while simultaneously massively increasing human consumption and our environmental impact.

Municipal decisions will lock in consumption patterns for decades

 And it is here in these few hundred cities, Remes tells us, that municipal decisions affecting transportation and development will lock in our energy consumption patterns for decades.

As Mike Harcourt posited, to Remes’ vigorous agreement during the question period, if China and India follow the North American urban development model, the global and humanitarian consequences are catastrophic.

If the Cities Summit set out a clear vision of an alternative vision, defining those key components of the City 2.0 that will channel humanity into a constructive and sustainable urban future, Your Faithful Scribbler missed it.

We are, it seems, still peering “through a glass, darkly” at a future we can only guess at--one that will need firm commitment and swift action--but in directions we do not yet know.

 Read more at: McKinsey Global Institute Urban World: Mapping the economic power of cities 

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