December 1, 2014
Many of us live in cities, in sprawling, dense and socially diverse places that are the fabric of our work, families and communities. Within our nations, cities form the urban hub linking us with the rural environments that provide the vital food and water systems on which we depend. Across the world, some 600 cities form the backbone of today’s global economy.
A hundred years ago, we city dwellers were a minority in the global population. But in just a few decades, that balance will tilt as we grow to become nearly three-quarters of the world’s people. This transformative shift began a century ago in Europe and North America. But it is now happening at lightning speed in Asia and Africa, regions that are adding millions to their already stretched urban enclaves. In fact, to meet basic city needs, urbanizing countries will have to build the equivalent of a city of a million every week for the next 40 years, according to Rockefeller University demographer Joel Cohen.
What will these cities look like? As the Economist City articles suggest, if urban growth follows its current path, the future will be bleak. They will offer neither prosperity for all nor be resilient—two widely held aspirations. Today, newly burgeoning cities are destinations for the poor. They are packed with leftover tin and cardboard dwellings, and an insufficient supply of water or toilets amid a daily struggle to meet basic human needs like food.