Balance works best in today’s complex urban ecosystems. Education, transit, health, economics, and governance all have to line up for a city to lead. London proves this again as its balanced strengths create distance from advanced cities like New York, Paris, Toronto, and Singapore. Further, eight cities make the top 3 in two or more indicators—London, Toronto, Singapore, Paris, New York, Sydney, Stockholm and Beijing. This confirms cities need a good combination of social and economic strengths to succeed.
The good life is not a luxury. It’s a basic requirement for cities and businesses to get and keep talent. Our quality of living variable shows the strongest relationship with overall success in the study, as well as with 10 other telltales of urban wellbeing.
A great city delivers on its responsibility to shared good. Senior wellbeing, housing, relocation attractiveness, workforce management risk, and natural disaster preparedness all relate strongly with overall score and top performance in a wide range of healthy measures. In other words, cities need to support real human needs to work as balanced ecosystems; a civilized society handles the tests and provides broadly.
The core of the modern city economy is intellectual work. Finance and business services contribute almost half to GDP growth of our cities from 2010 to 2015. And that doesn’t count intellectual work in healthcare, life sciences, technology, communications, and other sectors. City people and business need good education to prosper.
Achieving and sustaining resilience presents a major test for the urban world over a wide range of modern risks. Disaster preparedness must be intensified. If there is good news, it is that the most vulnerable cities can be the best prepared. Beyond climate change, potential pandemics and manmade threats like cyber attack, market meltdown, and terrorism, all demand that cities heighten awareness, strategic and technological acumen, good governance, adaptability, and, perhaps most important, the commitment of institutions and the community to work together as one unit.
Disaster exposure is enormous in financial and human terms. Powerful cities like New York, Beijing, San Francisco, Paris, Los Angeles, Shanghai, and São Paulo fall in the middle or lower ranks of our triple measure of urban resilience—natural disaster exposure, natural disaster preparedness, and security and disease risk. All are significant world centers of economics, communications, technology, and population where major disaster can cripple the city and send ripples far beyond.
Cities are the future. They are not only where people are moving but where young people are moving.
The healthiest cities are likely to win the global competition for talent and growth. But they also face demographic tests. Aging, slowing birth rates, and migration will realign public and private demands. Almost half of the increase in our cities’ population by 2030 will be in those over 65 years old. Demographics challenge the growth and the finances of many cities with increasing pension, healthcare, and other service costs. Businesses gain opportunities to develop new services and products to respond to the changing pattern. Both the public and private sectors benefit if the city’s quality of life attracts the talent needed to build the future.
Leading cities put together concerted strategies to understand their own strengths, weaknesses, and identities and then orchestrate growth to suit their own profile. Because cities are complex systems of systems—economic, demographic, technological, infrastructural, governance, social, and cultural—leadership will build from local identity, not formulas.
Businesses depend on city wellbeing and governments on healthy economies for shared success. They need to work together actively to help shape operating environments in a world where a continued urban renaissance is not guaranteed. The market will not necessarily resolve all issues cities face. Economic pictures can change fast. And governments often face tight resources. Successful cites align the private and public sectors into a potent force for shared prosperity.