Why you should care
Because 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.
There’s a new star on the geopolitical stage: the city. According to a number of scholars, cities have usurped the role nation-states used to play. Credit metropolitan growth, or blame dysfunctional national politics. Nowadays, the modern metropolis has an Athenian city-state sheen about it. It’s mostly well-earned. While presidents fight their legislatures and party elders squabble over ideology, cities are quietly getting things done: ramping up early education, tackling climate change, luring investment, creating jobs and, perhaps most important, modeling effective governance. That’s why, scholars say, City Hall has become fertile ground for new ideas.
Nairobi is the world’s fourth most congested city, far worse than any in the U.S., according to a 2011 survey. Kenya’s government estimates traffic jams cost Nairobi $600,000 per day in lost productivity and wasted fuel. That’s $219 million per year. The source of the gridlock: infrastructure made obsolete by a growing population that’s keen on cars. “Much of Nairobi’s road network is more than half a century old and was developed for a city of just 350,000 inhabitants,” says Dr. Osamuyimen “Uyi” Stewart, an IBM scientist. Since then, Nairobi’s population has swelled to 2.3 million, and like many African cities, it can’t build roads as fast as its residents can buy cars. Four hundred new vehicles hit the streets there each day. Which is why the new Twende, Twende system getting rolled out so drivers can to try to SMS their way out of traffic is a big, big deal.
Cities have to learn how to respect their elders and their surroundings, including, in the Netherlands, the omnipresent water, water everywhere. With cities sinking around the world, floods and huge storms wreaking devastation and sea levels rising, we could easily view water as a dangerous foe. No one knows this better than the Dutch, yet they will remind you how much land values rise with proximity to water. The Dutch had to endure their share of disasters before realizing they had to work with nature rather than against it. Call water the cities’ great frenemy.