The Most Powerful Cities in 2035

The future of humanity will be driven by the rapid growth and power of cities—especially in the developing world.

Today, Tokyo is the No. 1 city in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), with an estimated $1.6 trillion GDP. But by 2035, it will be supplanted by New York City, which will have a GDP of $2.5 trillion—larger than all but a handful of countries. Two more of the world’s richest cities will be American—Los Angeles and Chicago—while four will be in China, the most of any country in the world. London, Paris, and Tokyo are set to round out the last three.

Altogether, these top 10 cities will have an astounding $13.5 trillion in GDP by 2035 (to put it in perspective, today that would be the third biggest economy in the world).

In terms of population, all but one of the world’s biggest cities in 2035 will be in developing countries (Tokyo is the sole exception). Most are not well known: No. 1 will be Jakarta, the bustling capital of Indonesia, while others will include Chongqing (China), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Kinshasa (Congo), and Lagos (Nigeria).

While not shown in these graphs, all the world’s fastest growing cities in terms of population will be Indian.

Economically, India will make up three of the top five of the fastest growing cities, including No. 1. China will claim four slots, while the remaining three will be the capitals of Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Source: World Economic Forum

When Cities are as Powerful as Nations

Before the emergence of the political units we now call countries, humans organized themselves in a variety of other ways, ranging from bands and tribes, to chiefdoms, kingdoms, and empires. Most of these entities were not proper countries as we think of them today, lacking a cohesive political or national identity, a firm boundary, or much in the way of an organized government.

The ancient societies of Egypt, Greece, China, Mesoamerica, the Indus River Valley, and Mesopotamia were among the exceptions, which is why they are recognized as “cradles of civilization”, places where the first features of what we consider modern society emerged: agriculture, urban development, social stratification, complex communication systems, infrastructure, and so on.

The urban character of civilization is what I find most interesting, because cities were where power, both political and economic, was concentrated. Urban centers were the places from which rulers asserted their authorities. Cities are where democracy and republicanism took root, and where civic engagement survived through the Middle Ages in places like Florence, Venice, Krakow,and Hamburg.

This dynamic has changed little in the 21st century; in fact, it is arguably stronger and more pronounced than ever, as globalization, population growth, and advanced technology come together to create metropolises as populous, wealthy, and powerful as entire countries.

The following map, courtesy of CityLab, draws on data from 2015 to prove the incredible growth and prestige of modern cities (the data for cities comes from the Brookings Institution’s Redefining Global Cities report, while the data for nations is from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators; the map was compiled by Taylor Blake of the Martin Prosperity Institute).

A few highlights noted by the article:

  • Tokyo, the world’s largest metro economy with $1.6 trillion in GDP-PPP, is just slightly smaller than all of South Korea. Were it a nation, Tokyo would rank as the 15th largest economy in the world.
  • New York City’s $1.5 trillion GDP places it among the world’s twenty largest economies, just a tick under those of Spain and Canada.
  • Los Angeles’ $928 billion GDP is bit smaller than Australia’s, with $1.1 trillion.
  • Seoul ($903 billion) has a bigger economy than Malaysia ($817 billion).
  • London’s $831 billion GDP makes its economic activity on par with the Netherlands ($840 billion).
  • Paris, with $819 billion in GDP, has a bigger economy than South Africa, $726 billion.
  • The $810 billion economy of Shanghai outranks that of the Philippines, with $744 billion.

To put things in further perspective: if you added up the ten largest metropolitan areas, you’d get an economy of over $9.5 trillion, bigger than the Japanese and German economies combined. Add the next ten largest metros, and you get the second largest economy in the world, at $14.6 trillion, less than four trillion shy of the U.S.

In other words: Cities really are the new power centers of the global economy—the platforms for innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. But when it comes to fiscal and political power, they remain beholden to increasingly anachronistic and backward-looking nation-states, which has become distressingly obvious with the rise of Trumpism in the United States and populism around the world.

The greatest challenge facing us today is how to ensure that global cities have the economic, fiscal, and political power to govern themselves and to continue to be a force for innovation and human progress.


Very relevant question as the balance of power both within and between countries shifts to certain global cities, especially in the developing world.

What are your thoughts?

The Safest Cities in the World

According to 2015 Safe Cities Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Tokyo, Japan is the world’s safest city, scoring high in all factors, from low crime to pedestrian-safe urban planning.

According to The Guardian:

The EIU looked at a wide range of factors when putting together the index. It examined digital security, and considered the number of cyber attacks and how they were tackled. It looked at the obvious area of personal safety, but also infrastructure security – sanitation, roads, and management of natural disasters. In the health security category, it looked at quality of healthcare (for instance, how many hospital beds and doctors there were per 1,000 people), but also at issues such as pollution. As the report puts it, “Living in a safe and healthy urban environment can make a real and measurable difference to city inhabitants”. In the index’s top 25 cities, average life expectancy is 81; in the bottom half, it is 75.

As the article cautions, however, a sense of safety is highly variable depending on one’s lifestyle and priorities.

Before you start packing your bags, however, the conclusions aren’t simple: Tokyo also happens to be considered the world’s riskiest city, in part because of the huge number of people who would be harmed in an inevitable future earthquake. Nor does the report actually say which city is safest for you. From an individual’s point of view, as opposed to the municipal officials responsible for the smooth running of a city, isn’t personal safety more important than the threat of cyber crime? In that case, maybe you should look at Singapore instead. And what if health security is your priority, but you’ll take your chances on the streets? Move to Zurich: first for health, 13th for personal safety.

Other studies have revealed other issues that might be of personal importance. Amsterdam, for instance, is – perhaps unsurprisingly – a good place to be a on a bike. In 2011 and 2013, the Dutch city was ranked safest for cyclists by urban planning consultancy the Copenhagenize Design Company, using criteria such as bicycle facilities, drivers’ attitudes, and political will to promote cycling. The sheer proliferation of cyclists helps – cycling in the city, notes the report, is “about as mainstream as you can get” – as does cycling infrastructure and a 30kph speed limit.

Here are the safest cities by region:

safe_cities_index_world-map-2

Here is a detailed breakdown by the EIU:

  •  Tokyo tops the overall ranking. The world’s most populous city is also the safest in the Index. The Japanese capital performs most strongly in the digital security category, three points ahead of Singapore in second place. Meanwhile, Jakarta is at the bottom of the list of 50 cities in the Index. The Indonesian capital only rises out of the bottom five places in the health security category (44).
  • Safety is closely linked to wealth and economic development. Unsurprisingly, a division emerges in the Index between cities in developed markets, which tend to fall into the top half of the overall list, and cities in developing markets, which appear in the bottom half.  Significant gaps in safety exist along these lines within regions. Rich Asian cities (Tokyo, Singapore and Osaka) occupy the top three positions in the Index, while poorer neighbours (Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta) fill two of the bottom three positions.

  • However, wealth and ample resources are no guarantee of urban safety. Four of the five Middle Eastern cities in the Index are considered high-income, but only one makes it into the top half of the Index: at 25 Abu Dhabi is 21 places above Riyadh at number 46. Similar divides between cities of comparable economic status exist elsewhere.  Seoul is 23 positions below Tokyo in the overall ranking (and 46 places separate the two on digital security).

  • U.S. cities perform most strongly in the digital security category, while Europe struggles. New York is the only U.S. city to make it into the top ten of the overall index (at 10). However, it is third for digital security, with three of the four other US cities in the Index (Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago) joining it in the top ten. Meanwhile, European cities perform relatively poorly.  London, at 16, is the highest-ranking European entry in the digital security index; Rome is the lowest, at 35.

  • Leaders in digital security must not overlook real-world risks. Los Angeles falls from 6th place in digital security to 23rd for personal safety. San Francisco suffers a similar drop, falling from 8th to 21st.  For these cities—both home to high-tech industries—a focus on technology and cyber security does not seem to be matched by success in combating physical crime. Urban safety initiatives need to straddle the digital and physical realms as the divide between them blurs.

  • Technology is now on the frontline of urban safety, alongside people. Data are being used to tackle crime, monitor infrastructure and limit the spread of disease. As some cities pursue smarter methods of preventing—rather than simply reacting to—these diverse security threats, a lack of data in emerging markets could exacerbate the urban safety divide between rich and poor. Nonetheless, investment in traditional safety methods, such as bolstering police visibility, continues to deliver positive results from Spain to South Africa.
  • Collaboration on safety is critical in a complex urban environment. Now that a growing number of essential systems are interconnected, city experts stress the need to bring together representatives from government, business and the community before threats to safety and security strike. Some cities have appointed an official to co-ordinate this citywide resilience. With the evolution of online threats transcending geographical boundaries, such co-ordination will increasingly be called for between cities.
  • Being statistically safe is not the same as feeling safe. Out of the 50 cities, only Zurich and Mexico City get the same rank in the overall index as they do in the indicator that measures the perception of safety among their citizens. Urban citizens in the U.S., for instance, tend to feel less safe than they should, based on their city’s position in the Index. The challenge for city leaders is to translate progress on safety into changing public perceptions. But cities also aspire to be attractive places to live in. So smart solutions, such as intelligent lighting, should be pursued over ubiquitous cameras or gated communities.

Aside from Tokyo, the next five biggest cities in the world do not fare well in terms of safety.

the-big-five

Granted, some analysts are skeptical of the very idea of ranking cities based on safety. As The Guardian reports:

But is it really possible, or even desirable, to rank cities according to their safety? “We are quite wary of doing that”, says Dr Michele Acuto, principal investigator for UCL’s City Leadership Initiative, which is working with the UN on how to improve urban safety. “Rankings pit cities against each other. If you say London is safer than Manchester, it’s a blunt generalisation. You can say London has a lower crime rate than Manchester – that would be correct – but making judgements on safety is perception-based”.

How do you make a city safer? Nobody wants to live in a police state. “You have to reduce crime, but it’s also things like improving safety of transport. If you make a city more sustainable, with more bike lanes, for instance, you can redesign it so that it’s also safer for pedestrians”. The wealth gap also has an important effect on a city’s safety: “There is no safer-city agenda that can proceed without a social-equality agenda”, says Acuto.

And if there’s one factor you might want to consider as a sign of how safe your city is likely to be in future, look to the immigration rate. Studies in the U.S. have shown that, far from what the anti-immigration lobby would have us believe, a city with more immigrants has lower crime rates. A study by Robert J Sampson, professor of social sciences at Harvard University, found that first-generation immigrants were 45% less likely – and second-generation immigrants 22% less likely – to commit violence than third-generation Americans. As Sampson has summed it up: “If you want to be safe, move to an immigrant city.”

Whatever you think about the results, or indeed about ranking cities by safety in the first place, this research is very insightful in a world where a large and rapidly growing proportion of human life is centered.

The Rise of Megacities

For thousands of years, cities have been at the center of human experience, social organization, and innovation. Even though the vast majority of humanity throughout history has, until very recently, lived in rural areas, it was the cities from where rulers governed, goods and services were traded, and ideas were born and disseminated.

Given that precedent, it is no surprise that today’s cities — bigger and more sophisticated than ever — have begun to rival whole nations, including the very ones in which they are located, as centers of culture, economic activity, scientific research, and political influence.

Writing in Quartz, Parag Khanna discusses the emergence and future of “megacities” — metropolises numbering tens of millions of citizens and accounting for anywhere from a third to even half of a nation’s economic output. Spanning every continent, but most especially Asia and Africa, these massive urban conurbations will reshape our species’ development in every sphere, from economy to culture.

cities-gdp-population-global

For a larger version of the above map, click here.

As can plainly be seen, the developing world — once largely rural — will lead the way in the formation of megacities, albeit not by design; most megacities have formed organically, driven by heady economic growth and the influx of migrants from rural areas and smaller cities. The process has often been as rapid and haphazard as the political, social, and economic forces of the cities’ nations.

Within many emerging markets such as Brazil, Turkey, Russia, and Indonesia, the leading commercial hub or financial center accounts for at least one-third or more of national GDP. In the U.K., London accounts for almost half Britain’s GDP. And in America, the Boston-New York-Washington corridor and greater Los Angeles together combine for about one-third of America’s GDP.

By 2025, there will be at least 40 such megacities. The population of the greater Mexico City region is larger than that of Australia, as is that of Chongqing, a collection of connected urban enclaves in China spanning an area the size of Austria. Cities that were once hundreds of kilometers apart have now effectively fused into massive urban archipelagos, the largest of which is Japan’s Taiheiyo Belt that encompasses two-thirds of Japan’s population in the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka megalopolis.

China’s Pearl River delta, Greater São Paulo, and Mumbai-Pune are also becoming more integrated through infrastructure. At least a dozen such megacity corridors have emerged already. China is in the process of reorganizing itself around two dozen giant megacity clusters of up to 100 million citizens each. And yet by 2030, the second-largest city in the world behind Tokyo is expected not to be in China, but Manila in the Philippines.

For its part, the United States, which is the world’s third most populous nation, and which is expected to grow steadily over the next century, is seeing the rise of several megacities thus far: the Northeast Megalopolis, which runs from Washington, D.C. through New York City to Boston; the Southern California Megaregion, which runs from San Francisco to San Jose; and the Texas Triangle, which includes Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Though not as large as their counterparts in the developing world, they will be formidable economic and cultural centers in their own right, and are already economically larger than some medium-sized countries.

 

Khanna goes on to note that the sheer size and influence of these megacities, in conjunction with the rapid pace of globalization, will make them as much a part of the world as of the nations in which they are located.

Great and connected cities, Saskia Sassen argues, belong as much to global networks as to the country of their political geography. Today the world’s top 20 richest cities have forged a super-circuit driven by capital, talent, and services: they are home to more than 75% of the largest companies, which in turn invest in expanding across those cities and adding more to expand the intercity network. Indeed, global cities have forged a league of their own, in many ways as denationalized as Formula One racing teams, drawing talent from around the world and amassing capital to spend on themselves while they compete on the same circuit.

Megacities will also redefine the relationship between the developed and developing worlds, and as well as between themselves and the rest of their countries. They will be polities of tremendous influence to reckon with in their own right.

The rise of emerging market megacities as magnets for regional wealth and talent has been the most significant contributor to shifting the world’s focal point of economic activity. McKinsey Global Institute research suggests that from now until 2025, one-third of world growth will come from the key Western capitals and emerging market megacities, one-third from the heavily populous middle-weight cities of emerging markets, and one-third from small cities and rural areas in developing countries.

There are far more functional cities in the world today than there are viable states. Indeed, cities are often the islands of governance and order in far weaker states where they extract whatever rents they can from the surrounding country while also being indifferent to it. This is how Lagos views Nigeria, Karachi views Pakistan, and Mumbai views India: the less interference from the capital, the better.

Needless to say, megacities will pose as many challenges as they do opportunities: urban planning, social organization, resource management, law and order, and infrastructure will need to be subject to considerable investment and re-imagining. Political challenges will no doubt emerge between certain megacities and their smaller peers, as well as their national governments.

Khanna concludes that these issues, along with the sheer potential and influence of megacities, should change the way we map the world — metropolitan areas should be given as much attention as the 200 or so countries that make up the world. It is an interesting argument, and one that I think bears some consideration. I look forward to exploring the topic further in Khanna’s new book Connectography.

What are your thoughts?

 

Vienna Ranked World’s Best City To Live

The capital of Austria has for the sixth time claimed the top spot in Mercer’s annual Quality of Living Survey, which ranks hundreds of cities on the standard of living they have to offer — things like affordable housing, economic opportunity, personal safety, and thirty-six other factors that make for the good life.

As the Guardian reports, the city of 1.8 million has a lot going for it, especially when it comes to offering an accommodating environment.

Viennese-born Helena Hartlauer, 32, said she was not surprised at her city’s top position. The municipality’s social democratic government has a long tradition of investing in high-quality social housing, making Vienna almost uniquely affordable among major cities.

“I live in a 100sq metre turn-of-the-century apartment in a good area about 20 minutes’ walk into the city centre. But my rent is just €800 (£625) a month”. An equivalent apartment in London would cost upwards of £2,000, and even more in New York, ranked 44th in the table.

[…]

“You don’t realise how safe Vienna is until you head abroad”, said Hartlauer. “We also have terrific public transport, with the underground working 24 hours at weekends, and it only costs €1 per trip [for those who buy a €365 annual card]”.

Continue reading

Tokyo Offers Best Quality of Life

Or says Monocle’s magazine’s annual Quality of Life survey, which ranks cities around the world based on metrics like crime rate, infrastructure, health care facilities opportunities, education and more.

This year’s index also added 22 other factors for consideration, from the cost of rent to access to outdoor activity.

So based on this expanded criteria, Japan’s largest city moved from an already respectable second place position last year, to the top of the world. Monocle noted Tokyo’s “defining paradox of heart-stopping size and concurrent feeling of peace and quiet” as well as its efficient public transit, great culinary offering, unmatched safety, and polite residents.

Interestingly enough, the magazine also admitted that “by any conventional measure Tokyo should be a disaster”, owing largely to its sheer size, which most cities would struggle to accommodate — it is a testament to the city’s success, and perhaps Japanese culture and society, that one could find safety and serenity in the presence of over 30 million people.  Continue reading

The World’s Most Liveable Cities in 2015

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has published its annual Global Liveability Ranking for 2015, which determines which cities are the best to live in based on 30 factors related to safety, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and environment. As always, the results are quite interesting. Of the 140 cities around the world assessed for liveability, the top ten were more or less the usual suspects.

The order is virtually unchanged compared to last year, with Helsinki dipping two places, Perth and Auckland each rising by one, and Zurich entering the top ten. Melbourne retains its top spot for the fifth consecutive year.

As in previous years, cities in Australia and Canada dominate the top ten, together making up seven spots. Fellow Anglophone country New Zealand maintains its usual toehold, as do small Nordic and Germanic countries.

Indeed, as the EIU observes, the most liveable places tend to be “mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density” — hence the fairly low ranking of prominent metropolises like London, New York, Paris, and Tokyo.

As far as the United States is concerned, Honolulu, Hawaii once against gets the highest ranking in the country, with Atlanta, Boston, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and even Washington, D.C., performing fairly well. Once again, there is a pattern of medium-sized, relatively less dense cities doing well.

But given that each of the factors are weighted, each city has its own unique advantage even if it does well overall. For some it could be climate and environment, while others’ lean more towards culture or world-class education.

Meanwhile, the bottom cities are unsurprisingly places wracked by war and/or socioeconomic collapse, with Damascus, Syria, being dead last, followed by Dhaka, Bangladesh; Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; Lago, Nigeria; and Tripoli, Libya.

The Economist, the EIU’s corporate cousin, also identified an overall dip in average liveability rankings worldwide.

[Since] 2010 average liveability across the world has fallen by 1%, led by a 2.2% fall in the score for stability and safety. Ongoing conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and Libya have been compounded by terrorist shootings in France and Tunisia as well as civil unrest in America. In Athens, austerity rather than unrest has weighed on the provision of public services, while Kiev saw the sharpest fall over the last 12 months and is now among the ten least livable cities ranked.

The following infographics show how cities have been faring over the past five years.

It is interesting to see the capitals of Zimbabwe and Nepal, each among the world’s poorest countries, seeing an appreciable increase in their liveability (albeit from a fairly low base). And even though it ranked among the lowest on the index, Nigeria’s megacity of Lagos is seeing some improvement, as you can see more clearly below.

Reporting on the results, CNN noted some positive developments in fairly surprising places.

By contrast, some regions have bucked the trend — seven Chinese cities improved their ranking over the last 12 months “largely because of a lower threat from civil unrest,” the report said. “Chinese cities saw liveability fall in the wake of riots and unrest in 2012, most notably due to widespread anti-Japanese sentiment.”

China’s top-ranked city, Beijing, moved up five places to 69 in the global ranking.

But Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests last year resulted in a 3.2% decline in livability. Though the protests were largely peaceful, some parts of the city were brought to a standstill for several months.

However “Asia’s World City” still remained three places above city rival Singapore — 46th and 49th place respectively.

“Hong Kong’s liveability has been hit by the disruptive protests that took place last year. The city retains bragging rights over its regional competitor Singapore, but by a tiny margin. In fact both cities can still lay claim to being in the top tier of liveability where few, if any, aspects of life are restricted. This has not been the case in other parts of the world, with instability and unrest features undermining the scores of a number of cities globally,” said Jon Copestake, editor of the EIU survey.

As certain parts of the world continue to develop and prosper, we may find ourselves with a larger and more diverse collection of liveability cities across the world. It is a fitting trend given the parallel growth in both urbanization and globalization; more people are moving to cities and across borders, bringing with them cultural ideas, urban planning concepts, and the like. Perhaps that is why so many great cities — including most of those in the top ten — tend to be of a multicultural and cosmopolitan character.

Granted, the EIU is hardly the sole authority on the subject of liveability. Indeed, as with most any study, its ranking has some notable caveats; for example, it does not take into account the cost of living, which means that an otherwise liveable city might be out of reach from the average person. Some have also noted an apparent “Anglocentric” bias in the results, with cities in predominantly English-speaking countries consistently ranking the highest.

So for the sake of fairness, here are the results of two other leading annual surveys measuring cities’ living conditions. As it turns out, there is quite a bit of discrepancy, though a few familiar faces across the board, too.

First up is the Quality of Living Rankings conducted by Mercer, an American consultancy specializing in human resources and financial services. Unlike the EIU’s purportedly more academic look at liveability, Mercer’s survey is apparently geared towards helping companies determine the best places to expand their operation. Nevertheless, it encompasses an extensive criteria of 39 factors, such as safety, culture, recreational opportunities, etc. New York City is used as the baseline with 100 points.

Of the 221 cities analyzed, the following made the top ten for 2015.

  1. Vienna, Austria
  2. Zürich, Switzerland
  3. Auckland, New Zealand
  4. Munich, Germany
  5. Vancouver, Canada
  6. Düsseldorf, Germany
  7. Frankfurt, Germany
  8. Geneva, Switzerland
  9. Copenhagen, Denmark
  10. Sydney, Australia

Since the survey began in 2010, Vienna and Zürich have remained first and second place, respectively; Vancouver, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, and Sydney have more or less maintained their positions for the past five years. While the usual suspects from the EIU’s ranking gave a solid showing, it appears that Germanic countries are the ones that dominate Mercer’s index.

As far as U.S. cities are concerned, Honolulu once against performs fairly well at 36th place overall, but trails behind San Francisco (27) and Boston (34). Indeed, all the best cities in North America are Canadian; after fifth-place Vancouver are Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary.

In Asia, Singapore takes the top spot, followed by Japanese cities Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, and Osaka. For the Middle East and North Africa (e.g. the Arab World), Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Muscat (the capital of Oman) are the only ones to make it into the top 100. Oceania’s best cities are exclusively Australian, while Sub-Saharan Africa’s best city for quality of life is Port Louis, the capital of the island nation of Mauritius (which itself is one of the most stable developed African countries). Cape Town and Johannesburg, both in South Africa, round up the top three.

If you haven’t had your fill of liveable cities, we come to the third and final big index on the subject: The Monocle Quality of Life Survey, carried out by global affairs and lifestyle magazine Monocle. Conducted annually since 2007, this year’s edition was apparently the “biggest shake-up” yet, as it introduced 22 new metrics — such as international travel routes, public library systems, and good lunch options — that led to big changes in the top 25.

Without further ado, here is Monocle’s take on the best places in the world to live.

Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Interestingly, the results of this index are a lot more diverse than the other two. No country has a majority of top cities, though Australia and Germany enjoy a plurality with two spots each. We also see Japan perform a lot better, not only taking the top spot (which is an unusual for both an Asian city and a metropolis), but capturing two other high spots. (And this time, Portland, Oregon, leads U.S. cities.)

Taken together, the results of these big three surveys (and to be sure, there are a few other rankings out there), show a clear consensus: places like Vienna, Melbourne, Sydney, and Zurich are clear models to follow. Countries like Australia, Canada, Germany, and Switzerland seem to know a thing or two about how to create great cities. Whether for cultural, economic, or political reasons, these nations, and their leading urban centers offer, a lot to learn in a world of rapid urbanization.

We would do well to continue analyzing them — assuming of course that what makes cities great is something that can be clearly conceptualized and implemented, rather than an amalgamation of various historical, geographical, and sociocultural factor that are not so neatly emulatable. What are your thoughts?

How To Build The Ideal City

As human society rapidly urbanizes to an unprecedented degree — for the first time in history, more people live in urban areas than in rural ones, a trend that is advancing quickly — how we design and maintain our cities matters more than ever. Even in the developed world, creating cities that are conducive to human health and well-being can be a challenge.

In a new video from the School of LifeHow to Make an Attractive CityLondon-based Swiss writer  and philosopher Alain de Botton offers an interesting six-point manifesto on the need for making beauty a priority in urban architecture and design. Check out it out below.

While practical concerns like sewage disposal, electrical grids, and the like certainly matter, our social species requires environments that promote psychological stimulation and community cohesion. Check out a quick summary of this manifesto from Slate here. What are your thoughts?

Five Big Takeaways on Creating Better Cities

In 2007, humanity reached a major, though largely overlooked, milestone: for the first time in history, over half of all humans lived in cities. Only a century before, a mere 15 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. The United Nations estimates that around 64 percent of the developing world, and 85 percent of the developed world, will be urbanized.

Needless to say, the world’s future lies in its cities, which are increasingly  the main drivers of everything from economic growth to cultural development. The science of cities has never been more vital: not only must we create urban areas that better promote human flourishing, but we must also take into account the impact on the environment, which is in an increasingly fragile state.

The City Lab column of The Atlantic reports on some of the findings by researchers involved in the growing field of “urban theory”, who over the years have gleaned some of these key observations and approaches:

Cities generate economic growth through networks of proximity, casual encounters and “economic spillovers.” The phenomenal creativity and prosperity of cities like New York is now understood as a dynamic interaction between web-like networks of individuals who exchange knowledge and information about creative ideas and opportunities. Many of these interactions are casual, and occur in networks of public and semi-public spaces—the urban web of sidewalks, plazas, and cafes. More formal and electronic connections supplement, but do not replace, this primary network of spatial exchange.

Through a similar dynamic, cities generate a remarkably large “green dividend.” It has long been known that cities have dramatically lower energy and resource consumption as well as greenhouse gas emissions per capita, relative to other kinds of settlements. Only some of this efficiency can be explained by more efficient transportation. It now appears that a similar network dynamic provides a synergistic effect for resource use and emissions—what have been called “resource spillovers.” Research is continuing in this promising field.

Cities perform best economically and environmentally when they feature pervasive human-scale connectivity. Like any network, cities benefit geometrically from their number of functional interconnections. To the extent that some urban populations are excluded or isolated, a city will under-perform economically and environmentally. Similarly, to the extent that the city’s urban fabric is fragmented, car-dependent or otherwise restrictive of casual encounters and spillovers, that city will under-perform—or require an unsustainable injection of resources to compensate. As Jacobs said, lowly appearing encounters on sidewalks and in other public spaces are the “small change” by which the wealth of a city grows.

Cities perform best when they adapt to human psychological dynamics and patterns of activity. Urban residents have a basic need to make sense of their environments, and to find meaning and value in them.  But this issue is not as straightforward as it may appear. Research in environmental psychology, public health and other fields suggests that some common attributes promote the capacity to meet these human requirements—among them green vegetation, layering, and coherent grouping. Wayfinding and identity are also promoted by iconic structures, and meaning is enriched by art. But for most people most of the time, evolutionary psychology is a more immediate factor to be accommodated. As Jacobs cautioned, a city is not primarily a work of art. That way of thinking is bad for cities—and probably bad for art too.

Cities perform best when they offer some control of spatial structure to residents. We all need varying degrees of public and private space, and we need to control those variations at different times of the day, and over the span of our lives. In the shortest time frames, we can open or close windows and doors, draw blinds, come out onto porches and informally colonize public spaces, or retreat inside the privacy of our homes. Over longer time frames, we can remodel our spaces, open businesses, build buildings, and make other alterations that gradually form the complex dynamic growth of cities.

Interesting stuff. What do you think?

The World’s Most Livable Cities

Which cities are the best places to live? The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has set out to answer this question with its livability survey, which asses 140 cities based on such factors as overall stability (25% of total score), health care (20%), education (10%), infrastructure (20%) and culture and environment (25%) — the sorts of things most people agree are fundamental to individual and collective quality of life.

Here are the results for 2014, courtesy of Mic.com:

For the fourth year in a row, Melbourne took the top spot with a total score of 97.5 out of 100. The impressive score can be partially attributed to their perfect scores in the health care, infrastructure and education classifications. Several of Melbourne’s fellow Australian cities filled out much of the top 10, along with a handful from the Great White North. Combined, Australia and Canada scored big, claiming 7 out of the top 10 cities.

The remaining three cities were Vienna, Austria (2nd place), Helsinki, Finland (8th), and Auckland, New Zealand (10th).

As the article notes, while these top ten performed well in all the indicators measured, health care had a particularly strong impact:

A common factor of these livable cities was a high score in the health care category. The top nine spots all garnered scores of 100 in that category. To determine health care, the EIU looked at the availability and quality of private health care, availability and quality of public health care, availability of over-the-counter drugs, and general health care indicators.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand offer a variety of very livable cities, thanks in large part to their great health care, education, culture and environment, affording the countries general stability. Plus, as all English-speaking countries, they’re especially attractive destinations for any Americans considering a move.

Not only does being healthy have the obvious benefit of improving an individual’s mood, comfort, and longevity — all vital to life satisfaction — but in the aggregate, it improves entire communities. Healthy individuals are likelier to be more economically and socially productive, helping businesses and societies at large. They will be less burdensome to more expensive emergency services, and will have more disposable income on hand, since pooling the costs of health care through socialized insurance is less costly then spending a lot per person on expensive treatments.

But this study also highlight that there is more to quality of life than the bare necessities. Each of these cities offer an abundance of recreational and leisure options — well-kept green spaces, cultural centers, community events and facilities — that enliven individual lives and cultivate a sense of shared community. Good infrastructure provides access to these areas and events while helping to create more cohesion and interaction between various neighborhoods and enclaves. It is also telling that all the top cities are medium-sized, which suggests that being too big could present challenges to accommodating residents optimally.

All of this should be pretty obvious. But unfortunately, not enough municipal governments in the world, including in the U.S., have the vision and/or finances to make it happen, and too many city residents are apathetic, disenfranchised, or lack the community spirit to come together. Sub-national and national governments could be doing more to help local communities as well, especially as most countries, and the world at large, are either highly urbanized or becoming rapidly so. As cities begin to house more of the world’s population, and become the main drivers of economic, social, and cultural life, we need to work on making them as ideal for the human condition as possible. We have much to learn from the like of Melbourne, Vancouver, and other successful polities.

Melbourne, Australia — by some accounts, the best city in the world to live. Source: Getty Images / Mic.com