Cities have never prospered as much as in the past three decades. In 2008, for the first time in history, more than 50% of the world's population called an urban area home. Accounting for approximately 70% of global GDP, cities drive the world's economy and are vibrant engines of opportunity, commerce, culture, and an improved quality of life.
Yet this major shift toward cities has created critical challenges. In the Global South and East, the scale and pace of urbanization is straining physical infrastructure, fiscal capacity, and natural resources in many places. It is challenging institutional and political structures that often lack the capacity and flexibility to respond to fast-paced growth. Meanwhile, cities in the Global North and West are also facing challenges, including finding efficient ways of retrofitting and upgrading outdated infrastructure. Regardless of the region, the pressing issues of cities are collectively becoming the pressing issues of the planet: climate change; achieving economic, social, and environmental sustainability; and building a better quality of life.
In spite of the challenges, cities remain hotbeds for innovation and reinvention. New infrastructure and urban development models are emerging that are scalable and engage citizens, industry leaders and policy makers alike. They draw on new technologies and information systems to do more with less; use public-private partnerships and innovative financing structures; test unconventional processes and business models; creatively reuse outdated assets; and make multiple uses of existing infrastructure. In short, they are transformational.
Since there is no "one-size- fits-all" approach to urban infrastructure, the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Urban Development in 2011 — 2012 sought to highlight some of the new models of city-making for the benefit of urban leaders across the world. To this end, the Council developed Urban Anthologies: Learning from Our Cities. Urban Anthologies is a series of booklets showcasing transformational models of infrastructure and urban development. The series is a user-friendly tool, designed to equip mayors and other private sector leaders with the information necessary to transform their own communities and ignite further dialogue.
The success stories in Urban Anthologies are drawn from cities and communities of varying typologies across the world—from mature cities, to fast-growing ones, to cities dealing with economic transition, to new greenfield cities. They focus on the critical interventions, applied technologies, key performance outcome measures, local governance, and creative processes that will be good for people and the planet alike. Each story was selected for its proven impact, replicability, and scalability.
The 21st century will be the "century of the city." The World Economic Forum and members of the Global Agenda Council for Urban Development intend that mayors, ministers, urban leaders, city planners, civic leaders, and industry leaders determine for themselves how these success stories can be adapted to other urban settings, how to implement infrastructure planning decisions at the right time, and how to construct public projects in the most efficient manner to ensure advancement of community goals and improved quality of life. In this way, the "century of the city" will be one marked by prosperity, inclusion, partnership, and sustainability.
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