In this paper, the author points out that the world’s population crossed the 7 billion mark in 2011, more than half of it in cities. Each week the ranks of urban residents increase by 1million and on every single day some 20,000 new dwellings and 160 miles of road are added to the existing stock. Looking toward the middle of the century, demographers project a global population of close to 9 billion. More people and more cities are an inescapable part of the future. Should urban densities continue declining at about 2 percent per annum, as they have through much of the twentieth century, the built- up area will expand at a far faster rate than the urban population.
The world’s metropolitan cities in advanced and developing countries are failing to exploit the “urban advantage” and in fact are struggling to cope with the physical and financial pressures resulting from growing populations. Cities in the twenty-first century face the daunting task of financing, building, and maintaining needed infrastructure. Most cities have barely begun to tackle the physical and institutional changes required to contain greenhouse gasses and meet the challenges brought on by climate change. The reasons behind rapid urbanization in recent decades are examined including the rise of the metropolitan region and the advantages stemming from agglomeration. The review highlights key factors affecting the pace of urbanization such as national policy, economic structure, physical characteristics, and infrastructure availability as well as the implications of “smartness” for governance and sustainability.
Since there can be little doubt about the trends toward continuing urbanization and global warming the paper suggests that metropolitan regions should adopt coherent long- term strategies that will lead to smart, IT- enabled, compact, vertical, mixed- use, green, and sustainable development. From the perspective of urban sustainability and green development, market induced changes might be too slow, too myopic, and too piecemeal, and the market might not promote the kind of fast- paced innovation that is urgently needed to provide for the needs of inhabitants of vulnerable cities in developing countries. Low-income and industrializing countries need to avoid making the costly decisions that were common in the past when energy, land, and water were relatively cheap, and green technologies were unknown.
This paper was presented at a 2011 conference at The Brookings Institution organized by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and is Chapter 2 of the book Financing Metropolitan Governments in Developing Countries.