The Future Belongs to Cities—But They Will Face Challenges

Making urban futures cleaner, greener, safer and healthier through sophisticated planning and logistics.

Peter Harris | UPS

Future of Cities2There’s a growing consensus that to understand the future of the world, you must focus on the future of cities. Over the next few months, I will use this blog to highlight how well-planned urban development — combined with focused environmental consideration – can work in unison to make our collective urban futures cleaner, greener, safer and healthier. I’ll also show how sophisticated planning and logistics can help accelerate these changes.

Cities are Growing– Fast

Consider some of the evidence: a recent UN study revealed that more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities — and this number is set to increase sharply by 2050. The UN report indicates that a significant percentage of this growth will take place in the tropics, which will house over a third of the part of the world’s population that live in cities of one million people or more by 2030. Asian cities, especially in China, are also playing an outsized role in this population redistribution.

Oxford Economics’ Global Cities Report (which UPS co-sponsored) corroborates and expands on these findings. Our partners at Oxford predict that by 2030, eight of the world’s 10 largest cities will be in Asia; the other two will be Lagos, Nigeria and Mexico City. Chinese cities like Chengdu, Hangzhou, and Wuhan — unknown to most Westerners — will be as economically prominent as cities like Dallas and Seoul are today.

But urban growth in today’s world is proceeding along a very different path to that of previous eras, which was dominated by concentric growth or sectoral growth patterns. The presence of dense slums surrounding many growing cities will complicate growth and development.

Chinese cities will be at the heart of the coming urban economic shift. By 2030, 17 Chinese cities are expected to be in the top 50 global cities by GDP worldwide.

Looming Challenges

Click image to read Executive Summary

Click image to read Executive Summary

Explosive Chinese growth is only one part of the story. Rapid urbanization poses other challenges. Gaps in living standards and wages are predicted to widen further. Despite its fast growth, for example, it will take the citizens of Beijing 24 more years to match 2013 per capita GDP levels of New Yorkers.For Delhi, that catchup will take more than 50 years; for Lagosians, catchup will take 150 years.

The income gap is only one of the many challenges these cities will face. Areas like healthcare, sanitation, and education must undergo major overhauls in order to catch up with more developed cities.

Beyond those, other major challenges loom — congestion, infrastructure development, city planning, architecture, noise and air pollution, to name a few. And current approaches to urban development are often outmoded. New York’s approach to planning and developing infrastructure, for example, will probably fare poorly in Luanda.

Getting Smart About Urban Development

The solutions to many of these problems hinge on logistics. A smarter approach to urban development offers the potential to create a virtuous cycle for cities of the future. In future blog posts, I’ll take a closer look at the issues the urban world confronts, and potential solutions for those problems. Stay tuned. goldbrown2

Peter Harris is Director of Sustainability for UPS Europe. He has worked for UPS for 27 years, holding positions as UK Automotive Director, as well as UK Industrial Engineering Director. He holds a Masters in Engineering from Cambridge University, UK and is a Chartered Engineer and Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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