Will the future be ruled by cities or suburbs?

Two commentators disagree in a special issue of Foreign Policy on global cities: one says cities are the places of the future while another says suburbs are key.

1. In Foreign Policy, Parang Khanna discusses global cities, a concept developed by sociologist Saskia Sassen. Khanna suggests such cities are growing to a point where they exceed the ability for nations or the United Nations to control them. The conclusion is that cities are quite important:

What happens in our cities, simply put, matters more than what happens anywhere else. Cities are the world’s experimental laboratories and thus a metaphor for an uncertain age. They are both the cancer and the foundation of our networked world, both virus and antibody. From climate change to poverty and inequality, cities are the problem — and the solution.

2. Joel Kotkin responds and claims a more dispersed population, in suburbs, can lead to better outcomes in areas like generating wealth, less inequality, and a cleaner environment. He suggests this is particular an issue if we encourage large cities in the developing world:

The goal of urban planners should not be to fulfill their own grandiose visions of megacities on a hill, but to meet the needs of the people living in them, particularly those people suffering from overcrowding, environmental misery, and social inequality. When it comes to exporting our notions to the rest of the globe, we must be aware of our own susceptibility to fashionable theories in urban design — because while the West may be able to live with its mistakes, the developing world doesn’t enjoy that luxury.

An interesting debate – both places have their own issues.  One could ask what residents would prefer to live in (both in the developed and developing world): the wealthy and glamorous megacity or the comfortable and affluent suburbs? Or perhaps different nations could have different planning and policy goals? Or perhaps we need some of both cities and suburbs…

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