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Urbanization Will Change The (Developing)

For the first time in history more than half the worlds population resides in cities. The worlds
urban population now stands at 3.7 billion people, and this number is expected to double by
2050. The trend towards urbanization is only accelerating and 96 percent of all urbanization by
2030 will occur in the developing world. This global shift toward a more urban global population
has profound implications for a wide range of issues including food, water, and energy
consumption. The move towards urban concentration is a fact, and as city life becomes a reality
for an ever-greater share of the worlds population, governments, companies, and civil society
must recognize that they are largely unequipped to deal with city-level problems.
The international system typically operates through national level actors, and the way we think
about international challenges is through national capitals and national governments. For
example, diplomacy is carried out in national capitals and lending from multilateral development
banks is often disbursed to national governments. Given the growing importance and crosscutting nature of development challenges in urban centers, this issue needs to move up on the
global agenda and new ways of working with and through provincial and city governments must
be emphasized.
If cities are equipped with the right leaders, strategies, and financing, urbanization can bring
about immense positive changes in the lives of billions. Cities are engines of economic growth
and cultural development and can offer countless benefits to their inhabitants. UN Habitat
released a report in 2011 which concluded that cities are responsible for disproportionately
higher rates of economic growth when compared with rural areas: with just over 50% of total
world population, cities generate more than 80% of global GDP. This effect is even more
pronounced in developing countries: for example, Nairobi is home to just 9% of Kenyas
population but generates 20% of GDP.
The rapid changes brought on by urban growth also have the potential to be destabilizing if
managed poorly. While the world has seen mass urbanization in the past, the most recent wave is
unique in that it is focused in the developing world, including Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Great strain will be placed on developing cities resources, infrastructure, and leaders, all of
which are unaccustomed to such rapid growth. One major change that will accompany urban
growth is increased demand for energy and water. Global water demand is expected to increase
by 55% by 2050, and global energy demand will increase by about 33% by 2035. This projected
increase in water and electricity consumption is directly related to future urban population
growth urban residents use significantly more water and energy.

Urban growth presents an opportunity to connect more people to water and electricity, making
them healthier and more productive. It also presents the risk of overwhelming various public
goods, including power, infrastructure, health, and education as these systems adjust to increased
demand. Urbanization can be a positive, but if poorly managed will only amplify existing
challenges. The recent Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa was an urban phenomenon, and was
accelerated by poor municipal level systems. Other risks, including gang violence and extremism
leading to terrorism, can fester in urban settings if not properly addressed.
City-level problems require city-level solutions and a new focus on city-level leaders who can
experiment with policy. Currently there are examples of capable mayors all over the world. A
number of visionary municipal level leaders have gained national attention and made substantive
improvements to their cities. City leaders in the mold of Londons Mayor Boris Johnson, Buenos
Aires Mauricio Macri, and Former Mayors of New York City Rudy Giuliani, and of Medellin
Colombia, Sergio Fajardo have a lot to share with other mayors around the world.
City leaders are often only elected for four year terms, while important infrastructure projects
with high up-front costs may take a decade or more to yield results or political returns. At a
recent event at my CSIS day job, one panelist aptly called this problem of foregoing important
long term projects Not in My Term of Office or NIMTO. The U.S. and others can help
overcome the NIMTO problem in a number of ways: financial assistance can help blunt the upfront costs of some of these projects, and technical assistance can help provide decision-makers
and their constituents with information that clearly demonstrates the benefits of what may appear
to be costly or unneeded projects (despite their future importance and cost-savings)
Strong city leadership is the key to turning this unstoppable wave of urbanization into a wave of
prosperity. Given the way that cities can foster growth and creativity, greater urbanization could
be an unprecedented business opportunity for the U.S. to provide infrastructure, technology, and
financial services and other necessary products and services. The consequences of urbanization
gone wrong including violent crime, extremism, pollution and poor health outcomes can be
mitigated or even avoided with strong leadership. The U.S. and others should make confronting
this wave of urbanization a priority.