How Asian cities stay ahead

How Asian cities stay ahead

SINGAPORE - Cities are the lifeblood of the global economy and determine the wealth of nations. Throughout history, cities have been magnets for talented people who disseminate knowledge, spark entrepreneurship and innovate.

Today, most productive policy innovation is happening in cities and sub-national regions, not at the level of national governments, let alone in international forums like the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation and G-20.

Policymaking is more flexible and practical the closer it is to residents. At local levels, policy experimentation, and learning and adaptation, become infectious. Cities emulate one another and often adopt best international practices better than nations do.

This is why the World Economic Forum has just published a study on the competitiveness of cities.

"Competitiveness" hinges on the productivity of the city - its ability to use available inputs efficiently to drive sustainable economic growth and prosperity.

We compiled 33 case studies of cities around the world, with different endowments and at different stages of development. Nine are in Asia. Some are proven success stories, others are potential success stories, and yet others have got stuck or failed.

Urbanisation is the megatrend that is most relevant to city competitiveness. Never before has the world urbanised at such speed and scale as it is doing today.

As of 2010, for the first time in history, over half the world's population lives in cities. This population accounts for over 80 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP). According to the UN, globally, an additional 2.5 billion people will move to cities by 2050.

For the foreseeable future, rapid urbanisation will be an almost exclusively non-Western affair: 94 per cent of those who will move to cities in the next few decades will come from the developing world. The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) estimates that, by 2025, the developing world's top 443 cities will account for close to half of global GDP growth and 18 per cent of global GDP. These cities will contain the bulk of about one billion new middle-class consumers.

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