18 June 2014

Did you know that in the few short minutes it will take you to read this blog there will be 125 people born in China and India? The relentless pace of population growth in those countries means that every single day they add 60,000 people. That’s one of the many fascinating statistics about rapid urbanisation we showed in our megatrends analysis. An even more staggering statistic is that 1.5 million people are added to the global population every week.

And where will these new-borns to planet Earth end up living? Well, in 1800, only 2% of the world’s population lived in cities – now it is 50%. Indeed, in Cities of Opportunity 6: we the urban people we confirmed that skilled professionals in the prime of their careers want to live and work in urban centres that offer the greatest employment opportunities and strong social attributes. For China, this is a critical issue and it’s no surprise that one of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s key themes on his visit to the UK this week is urbanisation.

Friends and family was cited as the most critical trait to have in a city by 29% of respondents. If this was the 1970s I would insert a mother-in-law joke here, but it isn’t, and hopefully I don’t share any of Les Dawson’s traits! I rather imagine the ‘family’ bit of friends and family refers to one’s immediate loved ones as opposed to the extended clan we usually avoid until Christmas. Anyway, I digress. That was followed by employment prospects at 23% and safety and security at 14%.

CoO Urban People LARGE_For love and money a good city


Relocation preferences also match the desire for social and economic balance. London and New York, were named as the top two choices by our people if they were to work in any other of the 30 cities featured while other cities that scored highly for demographics and liveability also did well with Sydney, San Francisco and Paris making up the rest of the top five.

The growing numbers of elderly urban dwellers also figure prominently in the demographic shifts we are seeing. For instance, about a quarter of the population in cities like Milan and Tokyo will be over 67 by 2025 (26% and 23%, respectively). This greying planet will, no doubt, create new urban economic challenges as well as opportunities (for example serving new markets in healthy longevity).

Strong population growth (by 2025 there could be nearly 40 cities with a population of over 10 million) will put big pressures on infrastructure, the environment and the social fabric of the world’s biggest cities. In megatrends we forecast that New York, Beijing, Shanghai and London alone will need $8 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next 10 years. And while cities occupy 0.5% of the world’s land surface, they consume 75% of its natural resources. I’m not suggesting we all remote work from the Cotswolds, but there is much work to do if our global mega cities are to avoid finding themselves under increasing, and possibly unbearable, pressure.

David Snell 
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