Cities of Opportunity


It is the ultimate chicken-and-egg argument to try to determine which “came first,” infrastructure or cities—that is, if budding cities built infrastructure to survive and prosper, or if infrastructure (a storehouse, a well, a general planning grid) preceded urban communities? PwC has conducted an extensive study of 27 leading centres of business, finance, and culture, taking a “snapshot” of the current state of their infrastructure while, at the same time, moving forward and projecting the infrastructure needs of these cities a dozen years into the future.

One of the most important findings in our report is that some of these Cities of Opportunity “underperform” while others “overperform” as far as current infrastructure is concerned. A city “overperforms” when its infrastructure ranks higher than expected given its wealth (as measured by GDP per capita), while it “underperforms” when it’s vice versa.

There are 10 cities that do not underperform in any indicator. Seven of them (Berlin, Chicago, London, Madrid, Paris, San Francisco, and Stockholm) are mature cities and three of them are developing ones (Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur, and Seoul).

The study confirms the general perception that a number of emerging and economically successful cities, such as Seoul and Singapore, are not only keeping up with demand, but ensuring that their infrastructure will actively stimulate future growth. But the analysis of the data also leads to questions, arising from the smaller, more compact, mature cities that clearly rank very well for infrastructure: Do emerging cities risk becoming too large and densely populated, thus keeping them from achieving the quality of life of mature cities or can technology, and smart and efficient use of land, allow them to grow without sacrificing quality of life?

As land-constrained as Singapore is, it beats out Tokyo, London, and Paris in providing diverse and good quality housing to its residents. Los Angeles is the only advanced city whose traffic congestion is as extreme as Istanbul, São Paulo, Shanghai, Mumbai, or Mexico City. Tokyo, Singapore, and Stockholm lead the way in keeping people healthy, while US cities fall behind in this category, as European cities— and Toronto—fill out the top third in this critical variable. Seoul and Hong Kong prove that emerging cities can surge ahead of many mature cities in building high-quality infrastructure in areas like broadband, research, and recycling. Hong Kong ranks #7 in quality of living, just behind Berlin and Tokyo, proving that even an emerging city as densely populated as Hong Kong can compete for young, mobile urbanites with the global powerhouses.

Total population in both advanced and emerging cities is forecast to grow as the urban renaissance in advanced cities and the rural-urban shift in emerging cities continue. More people will mean more infrastructure.

Ultimately, future global urban prosperity will depend on the disciplined investment that each city can, and chooses to, make in its infrastructure. But it will also depend on the wisdom of those choices. Prudent, astute urban development always assumes a general public benefit. It is up to municipal authorities to take advantage of the many opportunities that exist.

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