December 10, 2013
Transcript: 2013 Strategic Foresight Forum - A New Model of International Governance: Why Cities Will Lead the Way
|Welcome and Moderator: |
Director, Office of Policy,
Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning,
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
Urban Age Institute
Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology,
Location: Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.
Federal News Service
And for those of you who think I'm Steve Clemons, I'm actually Steve Feldstein standing in for him. I'm shorter, not quite as good-looking, but nonetheless happy to be here. I want to recognize a few people in the Atlantic Council, especially on the urban front: Peter Engelke, a senior fellow here; Banning Garrett; Barry Pavel, of course, director of the Scowcroft Center; and Carlos Castello, who really helped to organize things.
And I think, you know, this panel comes at a really apt moment when it comes to the role of cities and how they will transform international governance. We already know that we are living in an area – an era of unprecedented urbanization and interconnectedness where an estimated 180,000 people move into cities each day. Urban areas are expected to gain 1.4 billion people by 2030. Economic activities in cities account for roughly 70 percent of global – of GDP, and approximately 1 billion people live in slums, and that number is expected to double by 2030. In fact, over 1.2 million kilometers of land, equal to the size of South Africa, will likely be converted from rural to urban by 2030.
So we know that there – the implications are significant, that cities really stand as the primary engines and at the crossroads of economic growth and innovation, but there's also a range of challenges that I'm hoping we can discuss with our illustrious panel today, everything from climate change and resource scarcity, poverty, political instability and even terrorism. So the interesting paradox as well is that even while urban growth remains a primary locally – local challenge, the global implications of cities are increasingly apparent, and we really need to find a way to balance effective urban planning with economic constraints, resource scarcity with increased populations and market growth with systemic poverty. Meeting those challenges, I'm sure, will require new forms of cooperation among megacities, with the potential for new and innovative power structures to emerge out of that cooperation.
We have an all-star cast with us today who will help us explore these ideas. First, Dr. Tim Campbell, chairman of the Urban Age Institute, sitting in the middle. He's worked for more than 35 years in urban development, with experience in multiple countries and hundreds of cities. His areas of expertise include city learning and exchange, strategic urban planning and the social and poverty impact of urban development. Dr. Campbell retired from the World Bank in 2005 after more than 17 years, holding positions including head of the World Bank Institute urban team and head of the Urban Partnership, which is responsible for developing new bank products and services for cities.
Next we have Greg Lindsay over on the far left. He's the senior fellow from the World Policy Institute, where he's a co-director on the Emerging Cities Project. He's also a contributing writer for Fast Company and co-author of "Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next." He's a visiting scholar at New York University's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, and he's also a research affiliate of the New England Complex Systems Institute. He is involved – he has advised multiple companies, Intel, Audi, Chrysler, Google, among others. And finally, my favorite, he's a two-time "Jeopardy!" champion and the only human to go undefeated against IBM's Watson.
MS. : I think that is truly –
MR. : McAfee (ph) says it can be done, people. We can fight against the machines. (Laughter.) I have done it.
MS. : That is really great. That's the high point.
MR. FELDSTEIN: Finally, we have Ms. Saskia Sassen. She is the Robert S. Lynd professor of sociology and co-chair.
SASKIA SASSEN: I didn't win against anybody. (Laughter.)
MR. FELDSTEIN: Well, not yet. (Laughter.) You still have time.
MS. SASSEN: Not yet, right. (Chuckles.)
MR. FELDSTEIN: And co-chair of the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University. Her research and writing focuses on globalization, immigration, global cities and new technologies, among many, many topics. She is the author of "The Global City," one of the foremost books describing the inordinate economic and political influence of cities, and she has an upcoming book, I understand, on "Expulsions: When Complexity Produces Elementary Brutalities." She has been chosen as one of the top 100 global thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine and recently was named the 2013 winner of the Principe de Asturias Prize for the Social Sciences.
So with that, I'd like to welcome our panel and kick off our discussion. And I thought maybe we'd start with sort of an open-ended question that we'd give each of our panelists a chance to expound a little bit upon. So we are living in the age of cities, with unparalleled potential to solve our most significant global challenges, slums and poverty, climate change, resource scarcity, terrorism and insecurity. How will cities lead the way forward? What models and governance structures can we expect, should we look to?
I'll leave it – if anyone has a first thought?
MS. SASSEN: Oh, I thought we – there was an order.
MR. FELDSTEIN: We can start – why don't we start with Dr. – with Tim and then make our way.
TIM CAMPBELL: OK. Well, it's a good question, and pleasure to be here with you guys and with all of you. Let me just start this way. We've all heard about the planet being urban now, since 2004, but what we don't hear enough of is that there are more than a thousand cities on the plane now that have a population of half a million or more. And those cities – a third of those cities are larger than a third of the countries in the U.N. And these places have heft. They have budget. They have smart people. And they are the ones who are facing all the global challenges. It's where the rubber hits the road.
They're also the places that know, because of globalization – and Saskia's written about this a lot – and liberalization of trade, national barriers are receding in terms of trade, exposing cities to more competition. And you talk to any mayor these days, they take this for – as a given. They understand that they have to pull up their socks just to hold position. And so because they have short terms of office and a million problems to solve – they're up to here with problems, morning, night and noon – they know that as a risk strategy, they can't spend a lot of time inventing new solutions at home, so – at least not all of them. So one of the items of their risk strategy is to go out and find another solution that's been already invented in some other place, and so that one of the things that I looked at over the past few years that came out in the book "Beyond Smart Cities" is this exchange between and among mayors around the world, this horizontal exchange.
So let me just explain just briefly what I'm talking about here. I'm not talking about ribbon cutting and political exercises where one mayor goes to another and shakes hands and does some sort of a cultural deal. I'm talking about technical missions consisting of up to a hundred business and civic leaders, sometimes more. Sometimes it's only 20 people. But the idea is that cities go to another place. They know what they're after. They've identified a need in advance. They understand what their problem is. They've picked a city that has a solution to that problem, and they go and visit it. They go and visit that city, and they take their stakeholders with them.
And so in the process of the visit, they're exchanging ideas and processing what they're seeing so that they're actually creating an environment in which they're able to understand, how are we going to adapt to this thing that we're seeing back home, OK? That's what I mean about a technical visit, city-to-city visit.
I sampled 53 cities from around the world, which has almost a perfect bell-shaped curve in terms of population size. If those 53 cities are at all representative of all the cities on the planet their size, then there are somewhere between a thousand and 10,000 visits between and among cities every year. So there's this huge underground economy of knowledge exchange going on.
And one of the things that this does is that it helps cities be innovative at home because of that processing I was talking about, because they form clouds of trust, which is a concept I think about. It's basically a network of confidence within the city, OK, and that cloud of trust enables them to have confidence that the thing that they are going to try to adapt, that technology or that process – could be for parking meters, fire hydrants, how you do public-private participation, what about energy utilities, how you do the water supply, how do you do solid waste collection, you name it, how do you do resilience and climate change and immigration and all of the issues that cities have to face – they have to adapt back home. And in that adaptation process, they have to have a confidence in this cloud of trust that they are understanding what they're saying to each other and are able to feel confident that they can move ahead and not get stabbed in the back by somebody else.
So that's part one, OK, of how ideas exchange. Part two is – I'll quiet down in just a second – is that this process of exchange – think about the numbers again, you know, a thousand to 10,000 visits; it could be more – leads to an association between the cities all around the globe. They are beginning to have more – they are discovering that they have more in common with each other than with the cities in – back in their own neighborhood, OK?
And so when you look at the institutions and organizations that have been formed, membership organizations like (non-boards ?), National League of Cities, like the United Cities and Local Government in Barcelona, like CITYNET in Seoul, FLACMA in Latin America, you begin to see that they have agglomerated – they're like constellations out there in the cosmos, and they're sort of agglomerating together. OK, they're beginning to associate together. They're forming mega-associations across continents. And that association is – rests on the premise that they have strength in numbers and that they're able to influence policy and – whether it might – in international trade or immigration or climate change or any of the global goods issues that everybody talks about.
So I think that that's the direction we're going, in the answer to the global governance thing. It's not a parliament of mayors. I think that's a bridge way too far.
MR. FELDSTEIN: An idea that has been put out by others in the urban space. (Laughter.)
MR. CAMPBELL: Yes, but there is this association, and this tissue is growing. So I'll stop there.
MR. FELDSTEIN: I like the idea of the underground economy of knowledge. I think that's a very interesting way to describe it.
Greg, your thoughts on where we're going?
GREG LINDSAY: Yeah, I mean, building off some of that a bit, I mean, I'm particularly interested in the phenomenon that I like to refer to as the instant city, which is really the notion – we've talked about technology, of course, this entire conference, and the notion of smart cities has already been invoked, the notion of building technology into cities. I'm particularly interested of the city itself as a technology, where urbanism is almost sort of a – is a coincidental afterthought, not that that's particularly good thing. (Laughter.)
But this is places like – so for an example, this is like Songdo, South Korea, sort of one of the archetypal smart cities, "Aerotropolis," as I've written about it at length. You know, it gets a lot of press for the notion that Cisco is going to go in there and make it, you know, a pneumatic trash tube collection, all that sort of stuff. But the thing to remember about Songdo is, you know, 15 years ago, in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, where the IMF and the Washington consensus told Korea, you have to open yourself to international conglomerates and open yourself up to foreign actors – the Koreans sat down and said, OK, we're going to build a city. That was their response to it. They created the Incheon Free Economic Zone, so they created a special zone with special economic powers, designated English as the official language of IFEZ, and then, because they wanted to build a city that would be attractive to multinationals and their expatriate workers, hired an American developer, Gale International, with their New York-based architect team from Kohn Pedersen Fox, and set out to design a – basically a ghostly sort of clone of Manhattan and other cities you know and love where the streets are borrowed from Manhattan, there's pocket parks from Savannah, there's architectural features reminiscent of Sydney and Venice and others. It doesn't look like Vegas; it just sort of – you know, you get this tickling in the back of your mind being like, I've been here before. (Laughter.)
But you know, but the solution was to build a city. And you know, and it struggled a bit because, you know, the other sort of extrajudicial stuff – extralegal stuff they were counting on like the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, you know, was held up for years in Congress, and so they've struggled. They've attracted a number of Korean families, but not the corporations they had hoped to do.
And then we've seen other cases – sort of example of a formalization of what Dr. Campbell was talking about – was, you know, in China, you have Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city and Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City. These are basically collaborations between the Chinese state-owned enterprises and Singapore's holdings through Temasek. And the goal is to basically pass best practices from Singapore into China. Basically, the premise is, we want you to teach us to be more like Singapore.
And their object of expression is to build two cities, one of which is of course intended to be China's Silicon Valley, because this is also what you see around the world increasingly: We want our own Silicon Valley; we want our own sort of technology industry. What you do is you go build a city, whether you are China, whether you are Ecuador, which is building one like that, whether you are Korea – that was meant to be Songdo's fate as well. And so you see, you know, sort of this object of expression.
And then, you know, the sort of part of that, which I'm really interested too, is – you know, is you're seeing, you know, places like Dubai, for example, with the Dubai International Finance Center – I mean, if you choose to situate there, you're not only choosing class A office space in Dubai as a company; your court of – highest court of appeal is the British High Court. You know, basically, the DIFC has opted into a completely different legal system in the middle of a city in the middle of an emirate. And so, you know, while I'm not certain how many more city-states we're going to see, I think it'd be interesting if in this century we start seeing more breakaway independent cities.
But we are starting to sort of see the sort of, you know, pick and choose from column A, B and C what legal structures you want to belong to, what potential immigrations you want to do, with Boris Johnson calling for regional-based visas in London, and we've seen the – you know, the governor of Michigan has called for urban (planning or ?) visas in Detroit – you know, the notion that we could see cities have their own visa regimes, like Canadian provinces do now. So, you know, we're seeing these interesting agglomerations. It's yet to sort of, you know, coalesce into this. And I have to agree that, you know, it's tough to see a parliament of mayors, but you know, I'm starting to wonder whether we'll see, you know, some sort of, you know, relationships between the two where, you know, you get – you know, perhaps you get a visa to three different cities at once that have agreed to ally like that, or – you know, or you end up with sort of your choice of legal structures based on where you choose to situate in a city. (Laughter.)
So that's – I'll let Saskia take it from there because – (laughter) –
MR. FELDSTEIN: That's great. And the ironic thing about Silicon Valley as a model is it's not really a city in the traditional sense anyway. So it's a sort of imagined idea.
MR. LINDSAY: So we can get – and we can get into this question, but you know, the urbanism of these places is tangential at best to its actual founding statements, which is what makes all of these instant cities very problematic.
MS. SASSEN: Right, right.
MR. FELDSTEIN: Saskia, please.
MS. SASSEN: Well, I thought – just picking up on your question and certainly building up on these two, I think that what we are living through, this particular period, contains within it, when it comes to cities, governance, et cetera, several layers of informal governance. And some of them relate – connect the city, if you want, to the national space, but the other ones are global. And I'm particularly interested in the second ones.
So if we stay – start with a national, there has really been a kind of funny and really informal downscaling whereby national policy, in our case made in Washington, et cetera, winds up de facto, as opposed to formally, being urban policy, not presented as urban policy, but that's where it gets enacted. So a lot of economic policies actually – not all, I'm saying a lot – wind up being urban policies. This is the story of the last 20 years, I would say, in this country. And in other countries, it plays out differently.
But internationally, partly on the informal exchanges of knowledge – and this is really like learning from each other – partly second element, very important – a kind of urbanizing of noneconomic sectors. So if you are a mine, if you are a plantation, you know, a firm that is a plantation, you will have a stronger urban moment in the trajectory that your operations entail because you need very specialized lawyering, very special accountants, very specialized financial, et cetera, and (counselor ?), and you're going to get them in a city. So your mine operation may be there, your headquarters might be in some small city, but you need access to this – what I have described as this global city function, which is really an intermediate sector which is also the growth sector in all our advanced economies if you look at the – also for the United States, by the way. That is where the highest growth rates are happening. It doesn't account for most of the economy, but it is where the high growth rates are – so that a lot of what is nonurban now has an urban moment. So that can also bring – and especially when the actors are global, it means that there is a kind of, again, informal global geopolitics.
Now, as a – as a – (inaudible) – footnote – (inaudible) – because I'd want to – not to go there, but if you think of asymmetric war, that is also an urbanizing of war. In other words, when the United States goes to war, it's not going to war against France or China or Japan. Its enemy is going to be what we kindly call irregular combatants. Well, for the irregular combatant who does not deploy tanks and air forces, the city is the technology for making war. So what we have right now – and we have seen that over the last 15 years very clearly – that the theater of war is not just the country – Iraq, Afghanistan, whatever – it is also a series of cities that can include cities that have nothing to do – like the bombings in Madrid, let's say, right, the bombings in London, for that matter. So what you – what you have then is even an urbanizing just of that extreme condition which really is the domain of the national state.
Now, coming back to sort of that intermediate zone of a global geopolitics – and it is informal, but when we did deregulation, privatization, all of those measures that were critical to develop this global economic system we have today – you know, for other global economic systems, you may not have needed that, but you need that for the kind of system that we have – all of that, again, means that what used to be the domain of the national state, tariffs on imports, et cetera, you know, the whole variety of things that – where the state played a very active role and the authorizing role to have those international transactions, they have now been scaled down, informally, in a way. It's not an explicit thing; it's you deregulate; you privatize – that's national state policy, but it plays out at a non-national level, and very importantly, clearly, at an urban level, like New York City, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, you know, a few places that really dominate.
So out of that, you can then stand back and say, what we're really dealing with is a kind of emergent geo – urban geopolitics. It does not cover everything, but it covers a lot of what was not in it 30 years ago.
So in that sense, this, what you're describing very well, is just part of the story, and what you were describing too – you know, so more and more – but I am particularly interested in this notion that part of what we used to call international relations is now – formal international relations, formal international law, et cetera, is now actually an emergent condition that has not yet been formalized. So on the horizon, I see the work of making the rules, making the laws, making a new type of treaty law. Remember, treaty law, which is our main form of international law – that runs through national states. So this, to me – and it's this very peculiar moment when a lot of informality inhabits what is basically an extremely formal space, right? And so – et cetera – you can see where I'm going. But I'm going to stop there.
MR. FELDSTEIN: No, absolutely. And in fact, I want to – I want to press that point a little bit and welcome responses from all three of you, in the sense that even if the trend lines look more and more like cities are taking on some of the functions that formerly national governments have undertaken in the past, there also, I think, is a prevailing issue that city governments are oftentimes weak, that you have overlapping governance structures that prevent any one person from exercising authority in an appropriate way. I'm struck by a trip I took a few years back to Mumbai, just seeing that no one really has full control over any single aspect.
MS. SASSEN: But nobody could control Mumbai. There are cities that cannot be controlled.
MR. FELDSTEIN: Right, well, maybe it's an outlier. But I guess – (laughter) – the question is thinking about governance in cities themselves, what sort of things will have to happen so that, A, as power devolves increasingly from the national level to cities, cities themselves have the capacity and the governance structures to take on those challenges, whether it's climate change, whether it's resource scarcity, whether it's something else like that?
MS. SASSEN: Can I – I just – I know that we should go in (neat ?) order. I just want to clarify, when I said "urbanize," I did not mean simply urban governments. It's, you know, the financial sector – I mean, if only the New York City government – (chuckles) – could regulate and fully control – no, it doesn't. So I was talking about the city becomes the zone, but it can mean corporations; it can mean, you know, all kinds of other actors, not just city government. Just to clarify so as not to confuse, but yes.
MR. CAMPBELL: And I think the whole idea, I think, that you're underscoring here is that – in your – one of your earlier books about authority, territory and rights, which is essentially what you're talking about here, is now on an informal basis and not – I mean, let's just reflect for a minute on what we mean by governance, OK? So at one point 50 years ago, you know, the British tradition, we used to think of it – governance was an authority to do certain things, to implement and carry out law, so that there's no entropy in the system, that it gets done. I mean, we lost that a long time ago, and certainly it was never possible in most of the global South.
And so when we – when we think about governance, then we're thinking about we do have these formal apparati of representative government in many places – Mumbai, let's take that example, or Cape Town or wherever – but they don't do everything that we expect or want them to do anyway. This is what you're saying. And so I think that the edge that we're establishing here is that this is an informal system top to bottom in some ways. And I think one of the things that –
MS. SASSEN: (Inaudible.)
MR. CAMPBELL: One of the things that I see in these cities that are learning from each other is that there – it's the – like the Brazilian term "jeitinho." You know, you're figuring out a way to get around it; you're figuring out a way to solve a problem, even if it's not the formal way, even if it's not the legal way. And that's what I see also in these associations of mayors and associations of local governments in nations. You know, they are agglomerating in a way – that is to say, they're joining forces; they have some informal and formal arrangements where they're – agree to talk to each other and agree to take common positions on certain things, like climate change in Warsaw last week or the week before, and that they're having influence in a way that they didn't have before. And that is the – tantamount to governance, I think.
MR. FELDSTEIN: That's really interesting.
Greg, where does informality meet formality when it comes to cities?
MR. LINDSAY: Well, I was going to say there's – I mean, there's a couple ways to talk about this. So I mean – and you know, Saskia used "informal" in one regard; I'm really interested also, as well as all of us are, in sort of informality in the sense of slums, since you mentioned, you know, we're going to see a doubling of slums. I mean, you know, there's – one of my favorite stats is, you know, Solly Angel at NYU, that urban land cover is going to double in 19 years and is going to triple, you know, in 40 years, which basically means, you know, every square centimeter of land under us is going to triple, and the vast majority of that will be informal settlements, will be unplanned slums. So that's really the condition we're grappling with, which is, you know, very bad and very optimistic in some regards at the same time.
But I – you know, what we are going to see is we're going to see stuff like, you know, I think the – I think Rio's favelas and the notion of, you know, we have sort of governance as being run by gangs and being run by communities that are essentially sort of decoupled from, you know, the municipalities which technically govern them I think is one regard of that. And I was thinking of another – the response – the really dystopian response to Mumbai is Lavasa, which is a city being built from scratch to the southeast of it. Lavasa is – was designed to be a Tuscan hill town, you know, on a reservoir that was created. And you know, it's essentially being built by the Hindustan Construction Company and is designed to be spun out as a private corporation. So we're seeing, you know, the notion of the city as a publicly traded company and as sort of a wealth catcher.
And they're not alone. Renaissance Capital out of Moscow is – you know, has more than – contracts to build more than a dozen cities across Africa, including a new CBD for Nairobi. It's a direct response to the ungovernability of Nairobi; we're going to build a shining, pristine free zone on the – north of the city where we can basically keep them out.
And then, you know, another example of that is – you know, is – you know, just as an aside, is King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia, where I was at. If you've read Dave Eggers' "Hologram for the King," this is the setting for that. And that is yet another privately developed corporation by Emaar, you know, a subsidiary of the Dubai-based construction company, where that is sort of being built, you know, as – essentially as a place to put the millions of Saudis – underemployed Saudis who they're trying to desperately create jobs for, which is why they're, you know, deporting 2 million Ethiopians right now out of the country. So that's another private corporation. And it's designed – this city is designed to attract foreign direct investment flows and create a diversified economy that the Saudis themselves have not been able to do. So they're essentially looking to the market to provide the governance and the creation of jobs and services that the Saudis themselves cannot seem to do, at least in the form that they want to do. So that's one whole angle.
And then yeah, coming back to that is I think, you know – I think when we discuss sort of, you know, regulation and governance, I'm particularly interested in, you know, what can we learn from informality in places like – you know, in Dharavi in Mumbai Kibera, Nairobi, where, you know, we basically have top-down, you know, governance apparatuses that simply cannot keep up with the urban explosion; you know, what can we learn in terms of regulation from them? You know, do we need to be – have a loosening of the regulations are – that are – that is basically crippling places like Detroit, which has 78,000 abandoned homes, most of which are in foreclosure; they can't clear them out of the courts; the rest has tax liens on it. And so you have an urban fabric that is not only in total disrepair, but it's frozen, from a legal perspective. How do we reactivate that? How do we occupy it and, you know, basically sort of try to rehab it?
So I think there's some sort of notion of semiformal governance that sort of ties into this as well. We need – you know, instead of just the informal and the formal, you know, is there an interface layer between the two? I think that's one of the projects that we should be looking at.
MS. SASSEN: Yes, because a lot of what I was talking about, you know, the role of corporations, et cetera, of lawyering, these are all formal instrumentalities, that they're not formally designed to have the governance functions that we have associated with national states. So it's a very interesting kind. It's not informal in the sense of irregular. You know, it's just that there is a missing layer.
Now, I am one of those – and most of my friends disagree with me, but I say, just thinking now of the United States, since we're in the United States, this is a time to make new law. You know, laws are made; they don't just fall from the sky. We have to get rid of a lot of old laws, and we need to make some new laws.
Now, this – I think of – vis-à-vis all kinds of issues, but this intermediate layer where more and more of what we might call the governing of a geopolitical space, especially economic, but not exclusively – that we need new law. Now, if it's international, it will be treaty law, et cetera, et cetera, right? But I think that this is actually an interesting period.
And as a footnote – I don't know if we want to return to this or not – I was just doing this interview on NPR, you know, where it's, OK, well, where are we at with cities now, with global cities? And I found myself saying – sometimes an interview really makes me think; you know, when I'm alone, I'm more lazy about thinking. (Laughter.) I don't know about you, but you know, an interview is like, yeah, let me think about it. So anyhow, I think that the period that starts 30 years ago, you know, this globalizing period where cities are built up – you know, we have all seen it, you know, whole new built environments, right, state-of-the-art environments, partial, gentrification – and expulsions, but still, all these new – but I think that right now we have done that project.
When you look at our economies, all our economies are shrinking. No matter that we are capturing growth, but we are smaller economies in terms of several variables – indicators than we were 10 years ago, 15 years ago. And so it seems to me that it's kind of stasis. Yes, we are sputtering a bit of growth there, and China's still growing at 10 percent, but that's in relative terms of decline. You know – but – and so I ask myself, when I think about what is the strategic role or the strategic events of today's epoch that get captured in the space of the city, so thinking of the city as a heuristic space, a space that tells you something about a larger story than itself – (inaudible) – the cities that you describe do that too; it's not just Songdo; it tells you a larger story – I think it's a social question.
Now, the social question is wobbly, messy. It does not lend itself to strict regulation; otherwise, you kill it. So it's a very ambiguous – talk about – (chuckles) – in between formal and informal. It's not informal either, though, right? And so it seems to me that one of the challenges is to generate a kind of regulatory thinking or norms – I don't mean regulations; that's far too confining – but about a whole variety of issues, of course, that are captured in the language of growing social inequality, et cetera.
And cities are a vanguard space because cities are making a lot of this stuff visible. The Occupy movements – this generation of women and men, the sons and daughters of the middle classes who – and not just in the United States, in many countries around the world – are not going to achieve what their parents achieved, you know, the sort of progressive – doing a bit better. It's not going to happen. So this is a very peculiar time. That's a totally different variable that I'm bringing into the picture.
But also this, because it's so acute and so visible in cities, I think that this is going to make – introduce an invitation to generate a kind of – again, a global geopolitical line of thinking that deals with a social question. We see it in things that have to do with health and epidemics. We realize we've got to get certain epidemics under control, or they're going to spread to the rich world. We cannot – we see it with quality of air. Look at Shanghai. Have any of you seen the – (inaudible) – I mean, it's incredible. So there are certain –
MR. CAMPBELL: Yeah, and the East Coast – and the East Coast governors suing EPA to get the Midwestern states to stop polluting their air.
MS. SASSEN: Yes. I mean, there were – at one point there were 16 governors who sued the U.S. EPA, you know, to raise its standard. Then – yeah, so there's a bundle of issues that we have thought of as falling completely outside international geopolitics which are creeping into it. Now, we handle them not in the usual, you know, international relations framing; we're handling them through very (private ?) – like the – thank you, Gates Foundation, for this and that, you know, et cetera, et cetera – many private systems. But this is becoming a very crowded and potentially contradictory zone, the zone of –
MR. FELDSTEIN: More the informal, the way Tim has described it, in some respects.
MS. SASSEN: Well, informal in – each intervention is actually pretty formal. Yeah, I have to stop talking. No, he looked at his clock like that – (laughter) – so he was really telling me – (cross talk) – no, no, absolutely. You're absolutely right. No, I appreciate that. Do I look offended? No. (Laughter.)
MR. FELDSTEIN: No, I'd love to involve the audience. I want to – I'm sure we have so much fodder for discussion. I'll start taking questions. And just please state your name and affiliation.
Why don't we start over here in the front, and we'll make our way around.
Q: Hi, Esman Barta (ph) from Norway. Fascinating panel. I – struck me that what you're describing is – has some resemblance to the city-states prior to the nation-state. I mean, for the roughly thousand years after Roman Empire before the modern nation-state, what Europe was was, you know, a number of city-states which had their own legal systems. There was some kind of diffuse Catholic authority on the normal – normative side, but basically, they were cities running the place. And then the nation-state comes in and try to marry, in a sense, the cities and the countryside, but fencing off to other nation-states and defining sovereignty. And it's a very fascinating story that you're all telling, which I think is, you know, a perfectly correct observation of where we're going. But since one of our themes yesterday was growing inequality – I mean, there is – you have touched on inequalities in cities, but how do we keep up the polity, which is very much the imagined community, as Benedict Anderson said, between the city, the urban and the rural? You know, what happens to politics and the sense of cohesion and the sense of collective decision-making if cities simply start ignoring the surrounding landscape and just, you know, link up to other cities? I mean, I see some political challenges in that, as a former politician.
MR. FELDSTEIN: That's – it's a great question, and we see that playing out in the U.S. Senate every single day, the sort of dichotomy between the rural and the urban and the politics.
Greg, maybe, do you have a thought?
MR. LINDSAY: Yeah. Sorry, I blanked there for a second. Does inequality – I'm – well, I don't know about the sort of notion of the urban-rural hinterland sort of inequality there. I am particularly interested in sort of the notion – there's – you know, Mike Davis wrote a hair-raising book in 2006 called "Planet of Slums" where – which ties back into the first panel today, Andrew McAfee's group discussing, you know – you know, job creation and automation killing jobs. I mean, this was one of Davis' points, that, you know – that basically, the sort of urban – this human tidal wave of urbanization is going to fail disastrously because we can no longer create, you know, the mass amount of jobs necessary through industrialization, which, you know, is still an open question.
But I'm interested in it because, you know, I've been following stuff like – you know, like the Maker Movement, distributed manufacturing, 3-D printing, all this stuff that's supposed to lead to a U.S. manufacturing renaissance. When you look at the actual sort of implementation of that in cities, you know, when you look at maker communities and whatever else, it's informal manufacturing. I mean, this is essentially what's going on in Indian slums, as it is. And so I'm particularly interested when I hang out with architects and whatnot who are imagining – sort of reimagining American suburbia, for example, in the – you know, not quite rural, but imagining that, where they're imagining sort of, you know, informal services popping up in suburbs to sort of, you know, aid the residents that – you know, the stuff that sort of we take for granted in dense central cities but is missing in suburbia. It – again, it mirrors the economics of sort of informal settlements.
And so I – I don't know, I'm particularly interested and also a bit alarmed by the fact that – you know, that we're – that, you know, what we imagine sort of urban services, I guess, in the United States, and possibly Western Europe as well, is sort of trending back towards this informal, and you sort of see the sort of breakdown of service delivery and breakdown of urban finance being able to afford it, and you're starting to see people take matters into their own hands, or at least that's suggested.
So that's sort of alarming to me in the sense of inequality there, where, you know, I – you know, whenever I read urban triumphalists like Ed Glaeser and Richard Florida and, yay, we won, cities are back – it's like, great, so we basically pushed all the poor people into the suburbs, into the housing stock that cannot support them, that will collapse, and now we're going to starve them in suburbs, which seems to be the sort of de facto urban policy of people like Mike Bloomberg, you know, for whom the number of homeless doubled on his watch when we became the world's pre-eminent global city. So it's that – you know, and this is – I mean, Saskia – I know this from reading Saskia's stuff about the fractal inequality of global cities this way, and it strikes me as that the fractals are getting, you know, further and further clearly defined that way.
MR. FELDSTEIN: Yeah, sort of the reverse migration.
Tim or Saskia?
MR. CAMPBELL: Well, let me just jump in a little bit on this. I – yes, I think there's one thing about the poverty and inequality that jumps over another aspect that hasn't been covered, which is the response to citizens to this globalization business and to what cities are doing and how cities are talking to each other and that sort of thing.
And I think that the – that on the poverty side, I mean, I remember going to Rio slums in the '70s and seeing one-story stucco and wood-framed housing with muddy walkways and no drainage and no indoor plumbing, and 25 years later, going back to the same spot and seeing three stories, completely stuccoed, internal plumbing, paved sidewalks and so on. So – and that taught me – and I said, well, of course, I mean, everything we ever learned about housing is – you know, and particularly housing for the poor – it takes much longer, but it's basically the same process; you know, you don't get – you don't sort of borrow in advance and get a mortgage to do it; you do it as you can do it. And that was a citizen response to an inability of the city to control land and land prices and to supply housing.
And I think that the analog to that in the modern times takes many forms. But there are lots of citizen engagement, some legal and some illegal, some very visible and others not, where citizens are taking into their own hands the abilities to respond and to make demands on local governments. So for instance, some of the work I've been doing recently suggests that the marriage of the youth bulge and the mobile miracle is having a strong impact on local governments. Youth bulge means, you know, if you look at the demographic profile in the global North, it's an erect cylinder, OK, equal numbers of people in each age category.
MR. FELDSTEIN: (Inaudible) – direction's kind of going this way, yeah.
MR. CAMPBELL: Yeah, right – or maybe, yeah. And – well, some of us will turn 70 this week, OK? So we're – (laughter) – but in the global South, it's looking like this. There are a billion people between 15 and 24. And that's the youth bulge. On the mobile miracle, somebody mentioned today there are a couple of billion cellphones in the planet. There are 7 – almost 7 billion cellphones now on the planet, almost saturation, OK? So – and it's not whether or not people have access to the cellphones; it's what are they doing with them, OK? That's the question these days.
And if you look at that 15-to-24-year-old, you're seeing that those people have 2G dumb phones, you know, feature phones. They don't have access to the Internet, but they're using them in SMS ways, just sending messages to one another, to mobilize politically, to clarify their identities, to draw boundaries around their community, to pressure local governments for where's our sidewalks, where's those jobs, where's that drainage we talked about. And of course that's not all they're doing with the cellphones. OK, I mean, it's a small sliver of what they're doing with their cellphones. But it's an example of citizen response with new technologies. And I think that this is something else that we need to talk about in terms of the equality issue, the rural-urban issue.
I mean, for me, it's all urban now. I don't – you know, for me it's not so much the rural-urban anymore; it's urban; what's happening in the – in the cities. And so while on the one hand we have this mixed metaphor of governance and informality with – and I think you very rightly point out, Saskia, that there's still – because the world is urban, you know, all of the sectors and all of the professions and the legal systems hit the ground in an urban place. That's where – that's – because it's an urban world, so that's what's going to happen. But what's the response to that? And I think that we need to look much more carefully at that.
MS. SASSEN: So I want to answer your question. We need entities like the modern national state. We cannot – otherwise, you know, it becomes a multiplicity of horizontal systems that connect globally, and then we have a mess. And mind you, in the European Union, we are beginning to see this problem. For instance, there are too many human rights regimes, you know, institutionally speaking, et cetera, within Europe. So there is now sort of – there are conflicts. It's extremely interesting when you watch that international zone, you know. But – so what I think what we need to do is the modern national state, on the one hand, I think of as an extremely accomplished capability because it has to negotiate multiple logics. It is far more a working liberal state – and, I would argue, also a working communist state, unlike Russia today – but you know, earlier where they – you know, they were OK. They have to negotiate multiple logics, whereas a multinational corporation, no matter how rich – one logic.
So we cannot throw out this production that we made collectively out of so many wars, et cetera, et cetera. But we need to reoccupy – (chuckles) – or inhabit this national state, you know, make it the site for different aspirations, et cetera, et cetera. And so it doesn't mean either throwing out all the law that we have, but it means making a lot of new law. It means rethinking a lot of treaty law. It means – you know, there is real – I really see there is work to be done. So I totally – I don't know where you were coming from exactly, but I would say yes, we cannot. It's just interesting that you have a de facto downscaling to that city level, for some very compelling reasons, and that's good too because cities can be more democratic, in a way.
MR. FELDSTEIN: Great. In the back.
MS. SASSEN: Shall we collect questions? Because we are running out of time, I think.
MR. FELDSTEIN: Sure, we can collect maybe a couple after we go with Peter.
Q: Yes, hello. I'm Peter Engelke. I'm a senior fellow here at the Atlantic Council in the Strategic Foresight Initiative. I just am curious as to – I apologize, I missed the first five to 10 minutes of the panel. I was outside engaging in another conversation, and so perhaps I missed some discussion of this question. But I'm just curious as to panelists' thoughts on – about the issues raised at the last panel, food, water, energy issues, natural resource issues, ecological issues at global scale that are the consequence of basically what we're witnessing right now. I've made the argument before that cities can be both a solution to the problems that we discussed in the last panel, but they can – they are also clearly going to be a problem unless we do something differently about how we build.
MR. FELDSTEIN: Great question. Why don't we answer that, and then we'll start bundling questions afterwards.
MS. SASSEN: But just to make very short answers –
MR. FELDSTEIN: Short answers, short, crisp answers.
MS. SASSEN: – because otherwise we're going to run out of time. So can I start?
MR. FELDSTEIN: Please.
MS. SASSEN: So I think that cities have to be solutions. I'm just going to that one part. But – because they are the source of so much destruction. But what we're doing right now in terms of that aspiration, the policy level we're dealing with is a disaster. Now, I think cities are doing much better than national governments. You know, I was at Rio 20 – Rio+20. And the – there was a summit of mayors. They know how to talk to each other, exchange information, et cetera – very, very good on that environmental vector. National governments arrive, and they regress to carbon trading, which is basically the right for more pollution, either to do it or to sell it to somebody who wants to do it. So it redistributes, you know, but it doesn't change anything. So for instance, what I'm doing right now is I'm looking at biologists – I'm interested in biology and the kind of technologies that you look at. So just to mention an example – and I think everybody should know this because it captures something very important. So some – most biologists are not interested in the environment; they are just average scientists. You know, they're interested in whatever they are. (Laughter.)
But those who are – and there are a growing number – are doing fantastic stuff. So they discovered a bacterium that, if put in brown waters – in other words, what we produce in vast quantities in kitchens and bathrooms, et cetera, and which is a real problem of disposal, which also is environmentally unsustainable – actually produces a molecule of a plastic that is durable and resistant but biodegradable. That means recoding something that we cities produce in mass, which is now a problem, from a negative to a positive, and we can either export the plastic, the biodegradable plastic, or we can, you know, export the – whatever, the brown waters. But that is just an example. And so every surface – every surface should be working. It should be gathering energy. It should be gathering solar. It should be bacteria that purify the air, et cetera. Then the city is actually recoded and becomes a positive. We're always going to be a bit destructive, no way around that. But that is sort of one thinking that I have.
MR. FELDSTEIN: A technological solution – (inaudible) –
MR. LINDSAY: Well, I was going to say, I want to do the flip side of that technology. So I apologize because I did not attend the entire previous session because I was prepping for this, but I did hear – you know, there was one point there was a discussion of, first we're going to have smart grids, and that's going to be awesome, and then we're going to have smart cities, and that's going to be even more awesome, and then we're going to have the Internet of things, and we're going to have total awesomeness – (laughter) – for dealing with sustainability issues, and we're going to have a much smarter planet. You know, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but this is the sort of – this is the sort of language that I have studied very closely in talking to the IBMs and the Ciscos – and apologies if you're in the room.
But I just – it's been interesting, you know, that there is an unspoken assumption here about doing smart cities and technology in cities towards the aim of sustainability, that if we just wire them all up, we'll get 10 percent efficiencies, and everything's going to turn out great for society. And you know, it drives me crazy because these are completely unexamined assumptions about how those technologies enter the debate here.
And when we talk about smart cities, which hasn't come up, but I want to address it real fast, is you know, all of those companies were basically hawking similar technologies for years in the forms of smart homes and entertainment solutions, and consumers rightly said, I don't need an Internet-connected fridge; why are you trying to sell this to me? (Laughter.) But with 2008 and the financial crisis, IBM and the others smartly went back and said, you know what, we can sell this to governments, and if we use sustainability as our selling word, we can sell this to them. And so they went back and they raided the cupboards for whatever technology they had lying around trying to sell in the form of smart grids and everything else, and to which they've had very, very mixed results, you know, pilots that don't go anywhere and apparently lower than expected sales projections according to The Economist.
So I just would say that – you know, that when we get into this about how can we address this in cities, you know, my thumbnail answer is I think cities will make the world worse from a carbon emissions standpoint and then make it better eventually, you know, once you achieve a higher standard of living. But you know, the notion that we can deploy technologies willy-nilly and do this – you know, the answer is yes in some cases, but you have to understand the assumptions of that because that has effects for governance too.
One minor point is, you know, the one – one of the great smart city examples that IBM touts is Rio de Janeiro, where Eduardo Paes has created a central control center for administering the government. And in doing so, he basically brought 30 or 40 agencies under one room, quite literally, in his sort of NASA-meets-James-Bond-villain lair – (laughter) – and – you know, and essentially changed the urban governance model. He created a very strong executive branch because he was able to use technology to rearchitect how the city was observed and partially governed and move that in there. There was no elections, no referendums, no nothing on this. And I'm not even saying that's a bad thing, but I thought that was interesting where urban governance and governance in general was changed because IBM built this system, and then Paes was able to extend it in various ways.
MR. FELDSTEIN: (Inaudible) – example of the intersection of technology and authority.
Why don't we bundle a couple questions from the crowd for the panel. In the front.
Q: My name is Walter Jurassic (ph). The question to you – and comment, short comment. Building cities is very easy. To maintain it is very difficult, from transportation to water. That's where the money comes from. What you can tell to the world and to the U.S. city what they can learn from city like Detroit, which once was very prosperous, and what happened now. So what they can learn from it?
MR. FELDSTEIN: Great question.
MS. SASSEN: Right, so let's – we're collecting questions, right?
MR. FELDSTEIN: Yeah. Another question. How about there.
Q: Yeah, my question is between top-down and bottom-up city growth and design, it seems as though right now we see a lot of chaotic bottom-up growth that makes it very hard to create systems, whereas the top-down involves relocating large numbers of people. What's the trend, and how does the city keep up with the rate of population?
MR. FELDSTEIN: Great. And I have one more question from Twitter, actually, as well for your consideration. John Hanesec (ph) asks, on the theme of individual empowerment, can cities provide a framework for converting consensus opinion into action? So three questions, one on building cities is easy, sustainability is difficult; bottom-up development and how that makes it difficult to create systems; and then the theme of individual empowerment. And I'll open it up – maybe Tim, you didn't speak the last round.
MR. CAMPBELL: Well, yeah, that's quite a collection. On the – what cities can learn from Detroit, I mean, I would turn the question around. I think a lot of cities in the global North can learn something from the global South about how space is used in cities, and Cordo Acheba (ph) and Bogota are two great examples of that. And by that, I mean that they have changed the transport systems, which I think are a key to a lot of the food, water and energy thing as well as to livability in cities in the future by collectivizing transport, basically. Let me just leave it at that short answer because there's so much other stuff to cover.
On top-down and bottom-up, you know, the business about Solly Angel's data and showing that cities are – you know, basically, densities are going down everywhere. That's the problem. And it's not only that these are low-density slums – in fact, most of the time slums are higher density – but that the issue of dealing with city immigration and of building cities is falling into a regional concern. OK, so it's not so much top-down or bottom-up; it's what do you do in the middle, in the regionals, because most of this growth is happening outside of the formal city boundaries. So I think that the – it raises a new issue rather than giving you an answer there, OK, at least that's how I would cover it.
And then on the framework for – what was the last question the framework of?
MR. FELDSTEIN: Oh, this is the individual empowerment, how cities can provide a framework for converting consensus opinion into action.
MR. CAMPBELL: Yeah, well, I think participation by citizens and cities is one of the bright spots in all of the dialogue that we've been talking about because there's so – there's so much going on, and there's – particularly with the advent of the information technology age, there's much more ability to communicate and to be heard. That's what I see, anyway, of these young people, for instance, in the global South using cellphones to (transcend ?) and in many, many other examples. So I think that's a bright spot. And the framework is basically – it's a democratic framework in cities, which is something that has a competitive advantage for cities that doesn't work so much for nations because they're so much further away. Let me just leave it there.
MR. LINDSAY: (Inaudible.)
MS. SASSEN: No, no, you go – you go.
MR. LINDSAY: All right, so I'll just touch upon Detroit and the empowerment one. Detroit – you know, it's interesting that – you know, what is a city? I think that the answer – the question about what happened to Detroit goes back to what is a city. You know, there was the – Le Corbusier said, you know, a city is a machine for living; Patrick Geddes argued it was an organism. And sort of the hot new metaphor for it that's coming out of the biology crowd and others and – is that basically cities are stars, they're – or suns, if you want to use that; they are giant social fusion reactors where social networks are compressed in space and time and there is emergent overlap out of it via serendipity and whatever else, and new functions come out of this, new meetings, new companies, new growth. This goes back to the heart of urban economics. Jane Jacobs herself wrote about this in "The Economy of Cities." And this is what cities are.
And so the failure of Detroit, which she ordained before the Japanese automakers ever showed up, was that Detroit was doomed to fail because it was a monoculture and that those networks had basically ossified, hardened and were calcifying. And so, you know, I think the problem of what happened to Detroit there was simply, you know, the social networks failed. You had white flight. You basically were left with sort of, you know, a black underclass, and you no longer had sort of networks and individuals and communities who were willing to sort of make it work. And then the urban fabric fell away, and you had a sort of self-reinforcing downward spiral, which is why my thought on, you know, one way we should intervene in Detroit is basically how do we reactivate public space; how do we reactivate spaces.
This goes into transportation. They're finally trying to do – the largest city in America, I think with maybe the exception of Tampa, that doesn't have any effective mass transit in it – they're finally trying to get around to doing this along the Woodward Corridor. But you know – you know, I think those are sort of the things of why Detroit fails. We basically need to start reactivating, start reknitting these social fabrics back together, using public space and shared space.
And so this goes back to the empowerment. I'm really interested in stuff like – you know, I was thinking of that of – you know, one way of approaching that – you're seeing stuff like Brickstarter or, you know, Kickstarter urbanism, crowd-funded urbanism, the notion of, you know, doing very, very small investments in very, very small entities around you, being able to invest in your block or invest in a local entrepreneur on your corner, coming up with financing mechanisms to do this, coming up with mechanisms for shared space.
So, you know, just as an aside, right after this, I'm going back to New York for the FT/Citigroup Urban Ingenuity Awards, and one of the finalists that I hope to vote for is called 3 Space, where they're essentially a U.K. outfit, one of many, that basically goes to landlords that would rather not rent because it's not worth their time or tax implications or whatever, and they basically work on behalf of the community to take the sort of space that's locked away and activate it for local entrepreneurs and make it available at sort of microscale so you can get people into the cities.
And so I'm really interested in sort of these sort of citizen, you know, middleware layers of things like that where you're going to have more associations and organizations and using software that can sort of, you know, allow you to sort of participate in the public process as much as you want to because the whole process of doing stuff at, you know, city – you know, at city board meetings and wherever else can be exposed, so you can sort of see the whole process of how I can get this bill passed or how I can get this sort of park implemented. You know, I like to think technology has a role in that, of me understanding, you know, what's been described as the dark matter of urban governance where you simply don't understand what's going on inside of it.
MR. FELDSTEIN: Absolutely.
Saskia, a quick response?
MS. SASSEN: Right, so in terms of a city like Detroit – and mind you, Detroit is not the only one. In Germany we have the "schumpfende staedte" (ph); this notion of cities dying is real – (chuckles) – not merely in the global South. I don't know, there is, like – but it's happening. Now, see, I just wrote a little piece that I'm happy to send to you where I compared Chicago and Detroit. So Chicago and Detroit both have a history of manufacturing very specialized things, and very, very diverse. Chicago managed to extract a knowledge economy, specialized servicing in anything that has to do with manufacturing, logistics, et cetera. And Detroit did not. Why? Because in Detroit, that enormous diversity of factories all geared to one sector, controlled by a few large corporations – that deurbanized the economy of Detroit.
What you cannot have – a city is a very particular space. It is not an office park. So also, it's a question of density. An office park is very dense, but it's not a city; it's an office park. So what the city offers is this possibility of multiple firms winding up working together to produce something, a lot of networked economies inside the city. So now we know from that case and from other cases that you've got to have that in an urban economy if it's not going to somehow, you know, become very elementary or die.
Now, every quickly, I'm going to combine the two, these last two, the Twitter and this one. So you say top-down. That is the big challenge: How do we make workable instruments, channels, et cetera, where the vast majority of – you know, the neighborhood, the individual home, whatever – you know, the citizenry, which can also articulate in the form of neighborhoods, or the economic district, whatever, you know, of a city, and the top, the government? Well, number one, we've got to eliminate a lot of existing law in most cities that I've looked at, which is not a lot, you know, but there's a lot of stuff that we don't need that is just bureaucracy, and it's not good.
But we also have to develop the instruments. As you heard me say, I am one of those who believes that things are made. Justice is made; inequality is made; cities are made. You know, the making of – and so we need to make. Now, at that point, with these new technologies, we have a lot of citizens who – it's not just that they have access to a technology that allows them to communicate what they have seen in the city that is wrong, you know, the – what do we call it, the hole in the ground, the pot – the hot – the pot – what you call it? The potholes. The pothole – you know, the Boston – you know where everybody – you know, it's an application that you have, and you say "Pothole! Pothole!" Otherwise, how can the city know where all the potholes are? You know, my God, that would take an army, right? So – but what it does – and that is more important – it's not just about information; it mobilizes people.
So somehow the stuff that I was talking about, the environment before – these are people-centered activities also. You know, you have to paint all of those surfaces with the bacterium (in it ?), so to speak. And so I think the citizenry needs to be mobilized. And then we have the technologies that can fill in a bit of the gap, not everything. But then there is another cycle that has to happen, and that is making new regulations, enabling regulations, making new law also.
So anyhow, I think we're done, right?
MR. FELDSTEIN: Well, I think we have time maybe for one quick last question for the panel if anyone has a burning issue that has yet to be raised.
I will – there in the middle.
MS. SASSEN: Yes, she – I've seen that arm raised for a while. (Chuckles.)
MR. FELDSTEIN: Yeah.
Q: Kind of a strange question, but I'm Patti Morrissey. I work for the National Intelligence Council Strategic Futures Group, and I'm the U.S. rep to the Global Futures Forum. And I've had sort of this nagging question about urbanization. I know there's data out there that shows mass urbanization trends, especially in the developing world. But I thought, the assumption behind that was the driver is there is more opportunity, there's food there, there is clean water there, so as people come in from really rural areas – not from suburbs, but really rural areas – and I guess we could use China as an example – to find opportunity in the city, I feel like there's sort of a countervailing trend that is farther out strategically that we need to look at in terms of how the smart grid enables people to move farther out and to get, you know, renewable energy, localize their production in terms of 3-D printing proliferating around and making products more locally available, the fact that I have a daughter who's taking all online courses and we're only a mile away from the school where the courses are being offered, but she could be three hours away and it wouldn't matter.
MR. FELDSTEIN: (Off mic.)
Q: We get it. So the bottom line is I feel like there's two different tensions here. And so the – I guess the real question is in terms of real research on what's driving urbanization, is – does that really support the long-term trend, including in the developing world, towards greater urbanization, or is there potentially another trend that we're not absorbing?
MS. SASSEN: There is. (Laughter.)
MR. FELDSTEIN: Great question. Quick responses sort of (here ?) at the very end.
MS. SASSEN: OK, fine, so one trend, just in terms of why so many people are – especially in the global South – how about land grabs? When the crisis begins – and financial firms are major buyers of land, not because they are about to become farmers, but because they make it liquid, right? So 206 – you look – now, buying land – I'm talking about big plots of land. We're talking millions of hectares in each acquisition. And this is an old story. The 206, the curve – I'm very – as a social scientist, I always look at curves, you know, the shape of curves. The curve goes like that. And 220 million hectares of land were bought by about 10 countries, including countries like Sweden and South Korea, not just the usual Gulf countries, as people think, or China, and about a hundred-plus firms, in about 28 countries. Those are major. There are little acquisitions as well.
Now, just a moment – a concrete moment – when China buys 2.8 million hectares of land in Zambia to grow palm, what happens? It evicts faunas and floras, sure, but it also evicts all kinds of rural economies. Some of them are actually rural manufacturing districts. It throws out, throws out – where do those people go? To cities. So when people now talk about – I'm so tired of that sentence. I think it's a sentence that we should drop. I will not say it, but now I have to say it to illustrate my point. So this is what happens. (Laughter.) So this urbanizing – when people talk about the urbanizing of the global population, there are too many nonurban things that are happening that have to be brought into the picture.
And one of them is this. Those people are being thrown out of their land. Their – so my little book – my new book is called "Expulsions," and I look at a whole variety – (chuckles) – of projects, you know, or processes. So that is part of the story, besides all the other good things that you said.
MR. FELDSTEIN: Great. Well, 30 seconds each for Tim and Greg. I think we're just about at our time here.
MR. CAMPBELL: OK, so the big – the big number is most of the urban increase is – natural increase already – that already happens in cities because cities are so large. And so the immigration part – in certain places, India and China, yeah, it still – it still matters. But in the global – there's an asymmetrical issue here. You know, in the global North, you're at a stage now where technology does enable some deurbanization. We see it happening all over the place in the U.S. But in the global South, not yet, because you still need that propinquity, that face-to-face exchange. You have to get the finance; you have to understand where the opportunities are; you have to borrow from your neighbor; you have to – you know, the safety net is in the city. OK, so that's the compelling reason why it's – I – it's still going to happen.
MR. FELDSTEIN: And yet the trend in Silicon Valley is to move to San Francisco and establish Internet headquarters for so many companies.
MS. SASSEN: Yes, exactly. That is very interesting.
MR. FELDSTEIN: So even in the face of that, you're still seeing something – (cross talk) –
MR. LINDSAY: But that's the same (regard ?) so I'll just come back to that. It just goes back to the social networks thing. The reason people keep moving to cities is because that is where social networks happen. That is whether you're in – moving an informal settlement and because other villagers or family members have moved there so you can tap into those resources, or because you go there to Silicon Valley because that's where the VC networks and other entrepreneurs are.
Just as my final point on that, you know, partly what you're asking is a question about dispersal. Are we seeing centripetal and centrifugal forces? And you're arguing, are we seeing a centrifugal one. And the answer is I don't believe, no. I wrote a book on air travel. I had to defend the whole notion that air travel would continue increasing in a world where we'll have telepresence and everything else. And the answer is that there has never been a decline in air travel, and for every prediction the city would die – George Gilder in '95, McLuhan in the '70s – in fact, the opposite has happened because, to echo this, we need propinquity; we need to be face to face; we need those encounters, and we need those social networks of that.
And so I do think – I agree with you that, like, rural living will get more awesome, but it will not – (laughter) – you know, be a countervailing trend; it will be a pebble in the stream, I think. (Laughter.)
MR. FELDSTEIN: Well, on that note, please join me in thanking the panel for a wonderful discussion on the future of cities. (Applause.) And I've also been instructed by the Atlantic Council to remind you that there is lunch outside waiting for you, for those who are – (end of audio).