Ingenuity. Despite the mass human migration from rural to urban areas, we have not lost our dependency on nature. However in many cities, the deterioration of essential ecosystems is considered less important and less urgent than other urban pressures such as housing, sanitation or poverty. This perception is misguided as our wellbeing is predicated on nature’s support and our livelihood is reliant on its biodiversity. Turning towards nature instead of away from it has proven benefits for our health, economy and the wider environment. We should rely on what is already around us, and focus our ingenuity on revolutionary ways of embedding nature-based solutions into the urban landscape so that our cities are more liveable and resilient. We must go well beyond traditional conservation, and develop ingenious new approaches to integrate and mimic ecosystems into the very design of places and our daily lives.
Places have power, as people’s loyalty to where they live has deep roots. The relative power of cities within countries is rising once again. As we look ahead, cities not territories will be the wellspring of a new kind of prosperity.
Modern cities have dual nationalities based on a civic sense of citizenship derived from their physical communities and location, and on a cultural sense of nationhood from being part of a more imaginary national community. This duality is a variable relationship with the emphasis changing over time, from its civic duties to its wider role within the nation. The sense of cities belonging to a nation state has been dominant for the last two centuries. Cities will remain beholden, but in this century they will turn decisively to the other pole of their dual nationality as their civic powers grow.
This shift in outlook by cities is propelled by three nearly irreversible phenomena working in unison: urbanisation, devolution and empowerment. Increasing urbanisation is projected to continue well into this century, with Africa and Asia leading the way as the most rapidly urbanising regions. Devolution is another mega-trend as many countries across the globe transfer considerable powers to their regions to improve local governance. City empowerment is the third element, as the actions taken by cities and citizens with their newfound powers are distinct from devolved national policies.
The emergence of empowered and more self-reliant cities is not limited to megacities, as a dramatic example shown by U.S. cities demonstrates. When the Trump administration withdrew from the Paris Agreement, the federal government ceded its leadership on climate change. In response a group of more than one thousand U.S. city mayors, State governors and businesses, representing over 130 million Americans, formed the “We Are Still In” coalition vowing to uphold the agreement. They represent a more local, civic movement that is moving forward independently and in unison.
A renewed focus on civic life is a fundamental change in people’s perspective. We put ourselves back into the narrative, reimagining the way forward from the starting point of the place where we currently live. We begin by growing deeper roots.