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Cities at Risk

Since the turn of the century, more people live in cities than in rural areas. This profound shift in human habitation heralds a new era – one rife with opportunity, new risks and changes in human adaptation. The era of homo urbanus, urban man, concludes the inexorable rise of cities as the nexus where civilization, trade and the global economy meet. Today, 301 cities comprise more than half of all global economic output. By 2025, these same cities are expected to account for two thirds of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In short, these cities are not only the linchpins of world history, they are themselves the protagonists of yet untold stories of how we thrive or decline in the next century.

In some cities, planners have made long range urban development a part of their growth strategy. From orderly capitals like Paris and Washington, D.C., to a sprawling metropolis like Rio or Mexico City, how urbanization and humanity continue to merge has profoundly shifted our story on earth. All cities, north and south of the equator, rich or poor are feeling the strain of a changing risk landscape and resource demands from being the target of both human migration and emerging threats.

A Tale of Two Cities

While cities in developed economies often groan under the strain of congestion, they are generally orderly places with vibrant economic activity. By contrast, cities in emerging economies often struggle to supply basic services to their densely packed inhabitants and even basic infrastructure, such as roads, utilities and other public works struggle to keep pace with demand. This strain is projected to grow exponentially through 2030, where our relentless drive towards urbanization will see no less than 41 megacities around the world – each home to more than 10 million people. Of these, 90% will be in developing and emerging countries. Large cities with 5 to 10 million inhabitants will continue to proliferate, tilting the scale of not only urbanization, but market demand away from advanced economies. While urbanization will continue to strain resources, it will also be the crucible through which human ingenuity builds a more resilient future. This resilience depends on enduring public sector leadership combined with market-driven private sector solutions. As seen at the conclusion of climate talks in Paris, which heralded a rare act of unanimity among the world’s political leaders, change is afoot and people are recognizing the urgent need for greater resilience. Different from risk, resilience is something we must pay for in advance, rather than treat like an economic surprise.

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