The Future of Cities: The Challenges of Growth

Emily MoirAuthors: Greg Clark, Chair of JLL Cities Research Center, with Emily Moir

In the last post of this series, we considered the future of the world’s largest cities, in conjunction with our Business of Cities essay. In this post we explore some of the issues which emanate from the rapid growth of cities.

The sheer pace of urbanisation in developing regions is astonishing. The UN predicts that almost 2.5 billion people could be added to the world’s urban population by 2050, with 90% of that growth concentrated in Africa and Asia. It is thought that there will be more than 400 million extra urban dwellers in India by 2050, close to 300 million more in China and more than 200 million extra in Nigeria. This explosive growth will inevitably place pressure on the cities of developing regions. Some of the challenges which large developing cities will face include:

Inadequate transport infrastructure and severe congestion
The rate of urbanisation in developing regions typically means that delivery of infrastructure is much slower than city growth. Many large cities are characterised by public transport that is overcrowded and overused, and by severe congestion resulting from inadequate road infrastructure. Continuing population growth, urban sprawl and pressures from climatic hazards threaten to worsen this situation over time.

Population Housing and Slums
Few city governments in developing regions have the power, resources, or capacity to provide their rapidly growing populations with the land, services, and facilities they need. The result is unplanned growth and mushrooming illegal settlements with primitive facilities, overcrowding, and rampant disease. An estimated one billion people currently live in slums lacking access to basic infrastructure and services such as water, sanitation, electricity, health care and education, and the UN predicts that this number could rise to three billion by 2050.


Demographic challenges
The size of households in developing regions is in general decreasing, which means that households are multiplying in number. McKinsey Global Institute calculates that the world’s 600 most economically productive cities will see the formation of 250 million additional households by 2025. An estimated 85% of these households will form in the cities of emerging regions; half of the total will be in China’s cities alone. This proliferation of households will place significant pressure on the housing stock of developing cities. Increasingly youthful populations are another demographic challenge for many large cities in developing regions. By 2030, Africa’s cities will be overwhelmingly young, with an explosion in the under-14 population. This represents an opportunity, but also a significant risk, as millions of young people seek work in the labour market.

Environmental Problems
Air and water pollution, waste management and degradation of green areas are issues in most large cities around the world, but are particular challenges for the burgeoning megacities of the developing world. Siemens have reported that whilst air quality has improved in London and Tokyo over the last 50 years, in Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur, it has deteriorated.

Social and Economic Inequality
Whilst rural areas are currently home to a majority of the world’s poor, the World Bank estimates that by 2035 cities will be the predominant locations of poverty. In cities however, unlike in the countryside, poor citizens live in close proximity to the very rich and in general, income inequalities are higher in developing regions than in upper income nations (UN). Siemens reports that inequalities within urban areas are generally most pronounced in emerging mega-cities. Although urban inequality is declining in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Asian cities the economic divide is widening and poses an increasing challenge. African cities meanwhile are currently the most unequal in the world, and their future prospects for altering that status are unclear.

The challenges we have highlighted are by no means unique to large cities in developing regions, although it is perhaps in these cities that the rapid growth which is forecast will apply the greatest pressure. Future challenges can also be considerably compounded by a lack of institutional capacity. Although some national governments have begun to decentralise service delivery and fiscal powers to local levels of government, the UN reports that generally these lower tiers do not have enough resources to manage their growing populations. Smaller cities in the developing world particularly struggle with institutional deficits, and we will look at some of the specific future challenges they face later in this blog series.



About the Author

Greg Clark has spent more than two decades putting his passion for cities to good use, by advising and mentoring global cities, firms and institutions. He has worked with over 100 cities around the world and holds senior advisory roles at international bodies including the OECD, Brookings Institution, ULI, and the Future Cities Catapult. A prolific author, Greg has published ten books to date on cities and investment practices, with three more in the pipeline for 2016-17. And as Chairman of The Business of Cities research and intelligence group, Greg leads a small high calibre team that advises and reports on global trends and changes in cities. In his academic life Greg is Hon Prof of City Leadership at UCL and co-chairman of the UCL City Leadership initiative, Visiting Professor at Strathclyde University, and Global Fellow at LSE Cities. He has received international awards for his work from cities as far afield as Barcelona, Brisbane, London, and Toronto and in 2016, Greg was honoured by HM Queen Elizabeth II with a CBE for his services to city and regional economic development. Meanwhile, outside of the day jobs, Greg is an avid tennis player, wine enthusiast, and lifelong follower of Arsenal FC.

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