shenzhen Photo: Wikimedia

A working paper published this month by two professors working at NYU’s urban-oriented Marron Institute contained some fascinating predictions about cities of the future.

Focusing on urbanization in the developing world, professors Brandon Fuller and Paul Romer explored strategies governments could use to accommodate surging urban population and income growth.

According to Fuller and Romer’s calculations using data from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the world’s population will swell to 11.3 billion by 2210, with close to 87 per cent (or 9.8 billion people) of the population living in cities.

Richard Florida, writing for The Atlantic Cities, said that these projections are some of the largest he’s seen.

Check out more staggering facts and predictions from this paper:

  • The world’s urban population is growing by 60 million people a year and is still rising.
  • In developed countries, the urbanization project is “basically complete” and remaining urban growth will play out in developing countries.
  • In 2010, the urban population of less developed countries was 2.6 billion. It is likely to triple in the next 100 years.
  • Meanwhile, city population growth in developed countries has already started stabilizing. City populations are project to rise from 960 million to just 1.2 billion by 2110.
  • As incomes in developing countries increase, residents are going to want more living space.
  • One way to accommodate the population surge is to increase the average population of a country’s existing urban areas threefold while also increasing the average built area sixfold.
  • Another option would be to leave built areas of existing cities unchanged while developing 625 new megacities of 10 million people.
  • Fuller and Romer point to Shenzhen, China (pictured above) which grew from a small fishing village in 1980 to a city of more than 10 million today as an example of a new city’s capacity to grow “dramatically and successfully.”

In his Atlantic Cities piece, Florida wrote, “These numbers make a compelling case for why city building is the most significant task we will undertake in the coming century.”

The primary concern identified in the paper is that “urbanization is peaking in the developing world at a time when the capacity to govern is still in short supply.”

“There is little indication that government capacity will be able to increase in time to manage urban life in anything like the way it is managed in rich countries now,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

The solution Fuller and Romer propose to handling urban growth in the developing world is unsurprisingly and neceassrily sophisticated, but it can be best summarized by the last sentence in the paper.

“The best hope for achieving the intention behind those goals is to shift focus to a single overarching goal: Every family in the world should be able to choose between several cities that compete to attract its members as permanent residents.”

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