The key to humanity's future? Asian cities
July-September 2015
By: John Rossant

Some 10,000 years ago, just as our planet emerged from the last ice age, human beings began to experiment with an entirely new and innovative form of social organization. Instead of constantly roaming around in packs, they grouped together in one place to live in settled communities – the first proto-cities. Since then, humans have steadily become more and more urban, to the point that sometime around 2010, the number of urbanites passed 50 percent of the total human population for the first time. Within another 100 years, the world’s urban population will expand to around nine billion out of a total human population of 11 billion.

We are thus living through the most frenetic and intense period of urbanization in human history – and this is largely an Asian story, a story of countries such as China, India and, of course, Indonesia. North America, Latin America, Western Europe and Russia are already as urbanized as they will ever likely be. This is why the New Cities Foundation chose to hold its annual meeting in Jakarta in June. This bustling metropolis, like other megacities around Asia, has been growing at an explosive and unprecedented rate. It is estimated that by 2025, Indonesia’s total urban population will reach 182.6 million, meaning that 68 percent will be located in urban areas – and many of those people will reside in Greater Jakarta.

Jakarta, with all its acute problems such as traffic congestion and lack of housing and access to clean water, but with all the opportunities and energy that are so evident in the vast city, could indeed be a poster child for 21st urbanization. The focus of urbanization is now completely concentrated in the developing world. Between 2010 and 2050, the urban population of developing countries worldwide will double from 2.6 billion to 5.2 billion.

The rise of cities in these continents will go on to define the world as we know it. Therefore, it is essential for city leaders in these areas of rapid urban growth to take active measures to curb and solve problems, because if these problems are not addressed now, they will only worsen in the future.

When considering the challenges that come with rapid urbanization, one might wonder why anyone in their right mind would opt to work in city government. A myriad of obstacles block the way to achieving prosperous, competitive and happy cities. These include insufficient infrastructure; lack of funds to realize infrastructure projects; outmoded forms of governance; citizen disenfranchisement; climate change; pollution; crime; and security.

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