city lights cities power

It is probably not news to you that more and more people are living in cities. This is a long-term trend that has been going on for generations. But an interesting side-effect of this that Parag Khanna of Foreign Policy brings to the forefront is that we are, perhaps, reaching a tipping point, where cities are becoming more powerful than nations. “The age of nations is over. The new urban age has begun,” he writes.

This idea brings a rush of thoughts to my head, and probably yours as well. Of course, it’s not a matter of nations OR cities, but the point is that cities are holding more and more power in their hands.

And while cities are interacting on a global scale with each other, they are not uniformly designed or operated, not in the least. Each city has its own unique characteristics, its own unique fingerprints.

cities power environment

“In an age that appears increasingly unmanageable, cities rather than states are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built. This new world is not — and will not be — one global village, so much as a network of different ones,” Khanna writes.

Wait, wait, wait,… not convinced yet that cities are increasingly running the world? Take a look at this info:

Just 100 cities account for 30 percent of the world’s economy, and almost all its innovation. Many are world capitals that have evolved and adapted through centuries of dominance: London, New York, Paris. New York City’s economy alone is larger than 46 of sub-Saharan Africa’s economies combined. Hong Kong receives more tourists annually than all of India.

And while this is impressive, megacities with tens of millions of people are on the rise, and one has to wonder, are nations controlling these cities, or are these cities controlling nations?

For more on the power shift we are experiencing, you can read Khanna’s full piece, “Beyond City Limits.” However, the points I want to steer this conversation towards are 1. the relationship between cities and the environment, and 2. the relationship between cities and human well-being.

cities transportation power

Cities Have Power — Use it for Good Transportation!

The way cities perform with regards to the environment will be a key to the health of the natural environment we all depend on.

While cities are generally better for the environment, due to the efficiencies of a lot of people living in a relatively small space, there are inefficiencies that have developed. One key inefficiency is the way in which citizens, city planners, and elected officials have tried to make oversized vehicles fit into dense places (cities). This has resulted in huge environmental costs, time costs, and financial costs.

If cities focus their power on making their transportation systems more efficient, hundreds of millions of hours can be saved, our health and well-being can be improved, and a ton of money can be saved every year.

And when it comes to the natural environment that supports us all (no matter where we live), all of this helps a ton as well. Automobiles are a major cause of global warming, in total, and are also the largest net contributor to climate change, according to NASA, and they are also a big cause of air and water pollution problems.

cities clean energy power

Cities Need to Lead on Clean Energy

While the United States and the international community continue to stall and fail on climate change action, cities have the opportunity to use their growing power to make the shifts we need to a clean energy future.

As I wrote earlier this week, a number of “smarter cities” are doing so. Hopefully, we’ll see much more of that soon.

As Khanna mentions, “Abu Dhabi is creating the solar-powered, car-free Masdar City — meant to be the world’s first carbon-neutral, no-waste city.” If this city is successful, maybe many more will quickly follow their example. And, before there is even an example to follow, hopefully more and more cities will be inspired to go down a similar route and become the beauty contest winners of the world.

Photo Credits: Stuck in Customs via flickr; Sprengben [why not get a friend] via flickr; Zachary Shahan; telex4 via flickr