Super Cities №73 — Why Cities Are The New Nation-States

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

In the 21st century, cities will replace nation-states as the primary driver of economic, technological, and environmental progress.


Nation-states defined the 20th century. Cities will define the 21st century.

If you care about business, security, or policy, you must understand the future of cities because they are the world’s most dynamic economic, social, political, and technological clusters.

For better or worse, they are home to an ever-growing percentage of the world’s population and the world’s economic activity.

They are the front-lines of terrorism, cyber-activity, and artificial intelligence.

To understand why cities will dominate the 21st century, let’s highlight some contextual data.

  • By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population — more than 6 billion people — will live in cities (UN)
  • 20 cities are home to 75% of the largest companies
  • In 2010, American cities with 150,000+ inhabitants generated 85% of the country’s GDP
  • By 2025, 600 cities will generate 60% of the world’s GDP
  • By 2030, the world will have 41 “mega-cities” with 10+ million people (UN)
  • Ninety percent of urban growth will be in Asia and Africa (UN)
  • Cities consume two-thirds of the world’s energy and create 70% of global CO2 emissions (UN)

The world’s most valuable companies — and the most interesting startups — are focused on the future of cities.

Cities are increasingly pursuing significant public policies — some good, some bad — distinct from their national governments.

  • The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has 36,000 officers and 18,000 civilian employees, including a global intelligence agency
  • Los Angeles and other cities have established offices for international affairs that handle city-level trade, investment, and tourism
  • More than 100 American cities have committed to the Paris Climate Agreement, although the federal government has not
  • Cities are testing and adopting cryptocurrencies and blockchain
  • Cities are experimenting with autonomous vehicles
  • European cities are battling to become the continent’s financial hub
  • Singapore wants to be a living laboratory for “smart cities”

If you’re interested in the future of cities, give me a shout. Our team is focused.

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