The world is urbanizing at a breakneck pace, this urban revolution is mesmerizing. But all cities are becoming more instable and fragile. The intensity of their fragility, however, varies considerably across time and space. Some cities are affected by acute fragility and are close to collapse. Others are also at risk, albeit to a lesser degree. Even our modern cities like Amsterdam, London, New York, Paris, and Tokyo are not immune. In the decades to come, the city, not the state, will decide stability and development. People around the world have been converging on cities for centuries, and more than half of them live in one today.
Fragility occurs when city authorities are unable or unwilling to anticipate accelerating ecological, ecological, social and technological change and deliver basic services to citizens. It is triggered for one by a rupture of the urban system. So what tips cities over? Which cities are most fragile? The city fragility does not appear to be restricted to poor developing countries intensity because fragility is conditioned by an accumulation of risks. And some risks – the pace of urbanization, income and social inequality, youth unemployment, homicidal and criminal violence, poor access to key services, and exposure to climate threats – are more serious than others
It is alarming that the future of global security and development will be determined by our cities. Yet we know alarmingly little about what is going on in them. This is especially worrying given the focus of the freshly minted Sustainable Development Goals on making cities more inclusive, safe and resilient. It is also worrying that there are so many information gaps and lack of integrated transition visons and programs.
The good news is that city fragility is not permanent and there are examples of once dangerous cities turning things around. To start with enlightened leadership, especially successive visions and transition pathways that make a plan and stick to it. The best cases involve evidence-based and targeted approaches to mitigating risks, invest in hot-spot policing, create meaningful opportunities for young people, and plan carefully to mitigate natural/ecological/social disasters. Essential aspects to shift from fragility to resilience and the susceptibility of the urban system to a negative impact. A practical first step in assessing vulnerability is to differentiate between factors that determine exposure and factors that govern sensitivity. In this context, sensitivity is considered to be governed by traits that are intrinsic to a specific urban system and by exposure to factors that are extrinsic to that system and determined by regional change and local effects, ecology, diversity, and ‘urban physiology’.
Overwhelming challenges have been faced and overcome before in human history through such consensus and concerted action, but usually in times of war and natural calamity. Now it is in solving the complexity of these numerous ‘chains of challenge’ and the enormous size of our ‘challenge of change’, it is evident that nothing short of global urban cooperation and collaboration is needed across all tiers of decision-makers in society: governments, communities, businesses and citizens.
Sharing, circularity, collaboration, solidarity, resilience, opportunity, and interdependence. The design principles are the elements of a socio-ecological and economy-wide transition and call for economic and fiscal policy reforms, legislative changes, new technologies, changes in financing, and strong institutions that are specifically geared to safeguarding social and ecological floors.
Large cities have long been complex and incomplete and by so creating the ‘resources’ for innovation This makes cities spaces of innovations, small and large, enabling the incorporation of diverse people, logics, politics. A large, mixed city is a frontier zone where actors from different worlds can have an encounter for which there are no established rules of engagement, and where the powerless and the powerful can actually meet. This includes innovations by those without power: even if they do not necessarily become powerful in the process, they produce components of a city, thus leaving a legacy that adds to its cosmopolitanism – something that few other places enable. Such a mix of complexity and incompleteness ensures a capacity to shape a city and an urban subjectivity. It can partly override the religious subject, the ethnic subject, the racialised subject and, in certain settings, also the differences of class. There are moments in the routines of a city when we all become urban subjects in a mix of time and space. That moment is now.
But, rather than a space for including people from many diverse backgrounds and cultures, cities are expelling people and diversity. Their new owners, often part-time inhabitants, are very international – but that does not mean they represent many diverse cultures and traditions. Instead, they represent the new global culture of the successful – and they are astoundingly homogeneous, no matter how diverse their countries of birth and languages. This is not the urban subject that our large, mixed cities have historically produced. This is, above all, a global ‘corporate subject’. And that does not look pretty.