Conference talks suggest future is bright for big cities

A number of mayors and planners from big cities around the world are meeting in France this week. According to one report, the future looks bright for big cities:

“The future of the world lies in cities,” London’s mayor Boris Johnson told a packed auditorium at the opening day of MIPIM Monday…

“We have to keep putting the village back into the city because that is fundamentally what human beings want and aspire to,” Johnson told the crowd, adapting a famous statement made by India’s Mahatma Gandhi that the future of India lay in its 70,000 villages.

“Cities are where people live longer, have better education outcomes, are more productive,” Johnson noted, adding that cities are also where people emit less polluting carbon dioxide per capita…

A recent study by Citigroup published in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper forecast that mega-cities expected to have the fastest growing economies by the middle of the next decade include London, Chicago, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Mumbai and Moscow.

What is being said here is not just the optimism of big-city mayors: others agree about the benefits cities offer such as reduced carbon emissions and being centers of innovation.

A few questions about this conference:

1. Are people bullish about the prospect of big cities because they live and work in big cities and therefore have to be more optimistic? Is this simply boosterism?

2. Is there a distinction made at this conference between central cities and metropolitan regions? When Boris Johnson, mayor of Greater London, talks about London’s prospects, is it safe to assume that he is referring to the whole region and not just Central London? I assume this is really about full metropolitan regions and not just about central cities.

3. Do city leaders in the developing world see things in the same way as the mayors from First World countries cited in this story? For example, mayors of places like London or New York or Chicago or Tokyo are already in charge of world-class cities that have established their place at the top of the hierarchy. Would a mayor of Cairo or Calcutta or Sao Paulo have the same rosy perspective?

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