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Seeing the future shape of cities through a foreign policy lens

Seeing the future shape of cities through a foreign policy lens

Envisioning our global future in the shape of cities continues to be a flavour of the new decade, further evidenced this month by the October cover story of Foreign Policy, the widely available journal of global politics, economics and ideas otherwise known simply as FP.

Having journeyed far and wide to compile a special section titled “Metropolis Now”, the FP writers are especially focused on the new “era of Asian cities”. In tones not unlike Jeb Brugman’s 2009 book Welcome to the Urban Revolution, members of the editorial team at FP mount an argument that the age of nation-states is giving way to an uncertain megalopolis-based future.
 
Editor Susan Glasser begins by drawing attention to the fact that in the USA today there are just 10 cities with a population of over one million (which puts our new Auckland City into a good context).
 
Contrast this to the McKinsey Global Institute’s projection that by 2030 the number of one million plus cities in China alone will top 200 and rising. Or the projection that across India more than 275 million people will move into that sub-continent’s teeming cities over the same period. 

To evoke how the centrifugal nature of future global centres might work, lead contributor Parag Khanna posits a millennial throwback to the way in which Marco Polo charted a world consisting of cities first and empires second (as immortalised in literary giant Italo Calvino’s oft-quoted Invisible Cities).
 
Age-old cities of centuries past were, Khanna reminds us, more than economic magnets—they were also innovators of politics, drivers of diplomacy and originators of opportunistic codes of conduct; all wrapped in agile city-defined coda of efficiency, connectivity, security.
 
He also notes that in the realities of this century the world’s clustered and often chaotic cities carry huge burdens, including stark and worsening extremes of wealth and poverty as glimpsed during both Football’s World Cup and the just completed Commonwealth Games.
 
Khanna’s contribution suggests a future world order will be built on a new category of cities, which will push the relevance of organisations like the United Nations to the edge. Many will be built “from scratch” and many will adopt generative models such as special economic zones.
 
He describes the world’s cities as “both virus and antibody”, problem and solution. Optimistically he notes that cities are “where we are most actively experimenting with efforts to save the planet from ourselves”—in ways that could provide the “virtuous competition” needed to turn cities into our future arks.