Cities Solving World Problems
Most people live in the biggest cities in the 21st century; so naturally, those metropolises have the highest number of problems and pressing issues. Just 200 years ago less than 3% of humanity lived in the cities, today – about half, and by 2050 it's projected that ¾ of all people will live in urban areas.
There are thousands of cities in the world and over 30 megacities with 15 million of people or more living in them. Despite all that, our national and international affairs are dictated and regulated by nation states, which is becoming increasingly unfair.
Some cities, like New York and Tokyo have larger economies and GDPs than some G-20 countries. Cities in different countries are linking via transnational supply chains, often crossing country borders while forming partnerships and infrastructure paths. All of this happens because of concentration of people, their creativity and ideas.
What is political role of the cities?
The cities are becoming the beacons of collective survival, reversal of climate change, and renewal of the democracy. Many modern and open minded mayors are working with business community and academia, scientists, and new migrants, this way facilitating diversity and tolerance.
This change takes place as many national leaders are weakening and becoming more homophobic, xenophobic, and polarizing. Nation states often experience the outflow of ideas, capital, and people, which leaves them technologically and behind and disadvantaged.
While economically the cities are growing stronger, they lack any measurable political power. This has been on purpose as cities were pushed out of international stages. UN never included cities in the debates about urban development, migration, health, and security. World Bank was never open to loans and credit for the biggest cities. Despite the central power shifts in North America and Western Europe, cities still struggle to get the decision making capabilities to attend to their own needs and regulate their own influx of people, ideas, and problems.
This inequality and lack of power is especially visible among cities in low and middle income countries in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America. The central government is very strong there and appoints municipal authorities with little freedom for decision making. This will have to change in the very near future.
What are the countries that contribute the most to urban growth?
- India – 404 million
- China – 291 million
- Nigeria – 211 million
- Indonesia – 93 million
- United States – 87 million
- Pakistan – 84 million
- Democratic Republic of Congo – 64 million
The biggest urban population growth is expected in Asia and Africa, an estimated 2.5 billion by 2050, while affluent regions will contribute just 170 million city dwellers by that time. Most city leaders in those countries have little to no power. For example, not many residents know who the mayor of Mumbai is and what he does, because all the power lays in the hands of Maharashtra state's chief minister, who has no interest in transferring or losing his long-held power.
Mumbai has larger GDP than Pakistan and Bangladesh and generates 2/3 of the wealth of Maharashtra region, but only 20% of votes. The region has no problem taking Mumbai's resources and redistributing in the entire region without giving it governing power that the city needs. To solve many problems and inequality the major cities like Mumbai should get some political strings into their own hands.
There are three different ways how such power could be captured:
How can inter-city relationships help harnessing more power?
The way cities are changing the current situation is by forming inter-city coalitions, bound to augment their own political power. Such city networks have been discussing and solving many problems, from urban governance to climate change and crime prevention. Out of about 300 such coalitions 100 are international.
One of the best known inter-city partnerships is the C40, forged 10 years ago by the mayors of London, Tokyo, and New York and including 80 cities. This body of cities helps other cities to solve decarbonization problems, offers advice, and facilitates change.
As of last year over 9,000 cities with 780 million people agreed to meet and exceed the Paris Climate Agreement targets. The initiative is definitely moving forward with cities installing solar and wind farms and moving away from coal. 300 of those cities are almost entirely dependent on renewable energy this year already.
What is being done about security?
European Forum for Urban Security and the Strong Cities Network work to promote security and prevent radicalization and extremism. Thanks to those initiatives city leaders and city residents are beginning to demand more decision making power at the governing tables.
Many cities are in the direct path of many natural global threats, such as rising sea level, air pollution, poverty, mass migration, and terrorism. Given these problems, cities simply can't afford standing on the sidelines of decision making.
Historically, innovation and social change has always come from the cities, not rural regions. It's always city dwellers that push for open borders, markets, societies, and minds. It's from the cities that tolerance and inclusiveness came from.
It's the cities that fight and vote against nationalistic leaders, who would love to tighten borders, restrict migration, and push against increasing diversity.
Let's hope that cities will continue using their soft power and investing in renewable energy, working to lessen inequality, and opening doors to migrants and refugees.
However, the initiatives of lone cities are not always enough to overcome major hurdles. In 2016 a Global Parliament of Mayors was created to aid cities in their political power assertion and drive of innovation. U.S. also have their own Conference of Mayors with 1,400 members working alongside the global counterpart. All this networking gives great hope that real change on immigration, health, prosperity, and security is possible and is on the way.