Jeb Brugmann

The Challenge

In an urbanized world, the designs, technologies, infrastructures, and governance of cities provide structure to societies and their markets: from the level of streets and districts to their metropolitan and continental agglomerations. Materials and information flows, business models and cost structures, and social and political relations work within the infrastructures, buildings, and communities of distinct urban geographies. As these geographies expand and connect to include another billion people by 2025, and then nearly a billion more by 2035, the ways we build, connect, and manage cities will further re-structure world commerce, politics, consumption, and ecology. “Globalization” is an abstract description of this very material and ongoing re-engineering of the world. The tangible end-result of globalization is a world urban system, the global City.

Cities and “the City” are shaped by uncounted forces: by local traditions and legacies, government planning and investment, competing commercial interests, and by uncounted, proliferating inter-city networks for production, livelihoods, finance, crime, and politics. These networks reflect the strategies of different organizations and groups to secure greater advantage in a world being reorganized into cities. Their parallel investments, technology choices, commerce, and social conventions often work at cross purposes, making urban growth chaotic and incoherent. But over the next decades, as each network works to optimize its strategies with others, new systems will be consolidated, linking large networks of cities into the global City system. There are many examples of new urban systems emerging from inter-city networks, including remittances systems, fiber optic systems, transnational criminal organizations, diaspora finance systems (e.g., for insurgencies or disaster relief), migrant labor contracting systems, Web-based social marketing systems, international health monitoring systems, and voluntary regulatory systems.

Continued global urbanization therefore highlights two realities of consequence for every kind of organization:

  • First, maintaining strategic advantage in an urban century will require increasing involvement in urban design, investment, management and governance.
  • Second, the next decades of urban network expansion provide extensive opportunity for otherwise separate interests to advance common strategies and to build shared urban advantage through joint city-building and inter-city networking activities.

No government, corporation, international organization, or NGO will be able to achieve its strategy without an explicit urban strategy.

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© Jeb Brugmann, 2009. All rights reserved. May be reproduced and circulated with authorship and copyright attribution. Source: www. jebbrugmann.com