Global cities are the future wealth creators 

Global cities are the future wealth creators 

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Cities are wealth creators and wealth magnets. According to a recent survey for global city mayors, the world’s two biggest and richest metropolises — Tokyo and New York — generate more gross domestic product than 170 of the 183 nation states in the World Bank rankings of economic power.

Already today, more than half the world’s population lives in large urban communities, and produce nearly 80 percent of global economic activity. The trend seems inexorable, despite the current doubts cast by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bank, in a report written after the first onslaught of the virus, forecast that by 2050 the urban population would double again, and 70 percent of all people in the world will live in cities.

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They will become increasingly wealthy, too. Around 100 billionaires are believed to live in New York, while London, Hong Kong and Moscow have a big number too. 

But it is not just the slim possibility of joining the ranks of the ultra-rich that prompts ordinary people to move to cities. Urban standards of living on the whole are much higher than rural lifestyles. Urbanization is a tide that seems to lift everybody to a better level.

The U20 — the urban track of the G20 under the presidency of Saudi Arabia — which formally begins today in Riyadh will, understandably, be focused on the great issue of the day — the pandemic and its implications for the future of cities.

Urban and economic planning for the COVID-19 age and the era of global warming are absolute requirements.

Frank Kane

But it will also be an opportunity for some deep thinking about the other side of the urban dream. For all the wealth cities generate and attract, they create an equal number of issues that need to be confronted.

Perhaps the most serious long-term challenge is climate change. Cities consume more than their fair share of the earth’s resources, and a way has to be found to return them to carbon balance if mankind is to have any chance of meeting the climate goals of the Paris Agreement.

Cities have even more vested interest in solving the climate change challenge than the rural poor — half a billion people live in coastal cities that are becoming increasingly vulnerable to rising sea levels. 

Social and economic inequality are also by-products of rapid urban growth. The World Bank estimates that nearly 1 billion people live in “informal settlements” — shanty towns — on the outskirts of opulent cities, with inadequate housing, sanitation, healthcare and transport.

Urban and economic planning for the COVID-19 age and the era of global warming are absolute requirements.

The U20 in Riyadh, embarking on its own massive growth strategy to double its population by 2030, is the perfect forum for the world to begin thinking about a long-term urban planning strategy for the post-pandemic era, to ensure our cities continue to be wealth creators.

  • Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view