Why Successful Cities Are Globally Connected

This post is part of our Thriving Cities discussion series, following the sixth edition of the NewCities Summit in Incheon Songdo, South Korea in June 2017.

When we think of urbanization, the world’s great megacities are the first to jump to mind. Yet, it is second, third and fourth-tier cities that most of the new urban population calls home. The importance of these cities for their national economies cannot be overstated. Strong connections to larger cities and to global marketplace is necessary for these cities to meet their full potential and to successfully manage the weight of urbanization. How can these cities create better links to their national and regional economies? What challenges do these cities face in accessing global markets?

The panel narrowed the discussion on global connectivity to mid-sized cities, a realm often overshadowed by global metropolises, but one where connectivity plays an even larger role in each city’s success. Olivier Biancarelli, Managing Director of the Decentralized Solutions for Cities & Territories at ENGIE, said: “If we look at demographic data, the urban population on Earth is around 4 billion and half of this population is living in mid-sized cities of around 500,000 people or below.”

“This number represents a critical mass which allows investment in infrastructure and connectivity. These cities, nevertheless, have the same issues as bigger cities: from economic development, attractiveness and competition,” he said.

Kandahar is the second-largest city in Afghanistan and represents a very compelling case of a city that suffers from instability and insecurity but, simultaneously, one with the potential to connect Asia and Europe via the New Silk Road project. Mayor Roshaan Wolusmal described his city as one where administration and citizens work closely together in forging this future of global connectivity.

Elizabeth Le Masson, Delegate for Economic Promotion and Job Creation at Aéroports de Paris, and Anthony Fernandes, Chief Executive Officer, AirAsia, led the conversation on connectivity by air. Both touched on the great potential of airports to create economic clusters, however, when next to a big city such as Paris, the importance of the connection to the cluster itself can be overlooked.

“People from Paris can fly all over the world but people living ten kilometres from the airport can only get there in a car. It’s a paradox,” Le Masson explained. With megacities like Paris already reaping the benefits of global connectivity, the focus must now shift to mid-sized cities where connectivity can make an even larger impact as higher volumes of the global population turns to mid-sized cities.

Fernandes seeks to bring cities together by adding them to his flight network creating a world that is connected by many points and not a few hubs. Air Asia’s success suggests his focus on medium-sized cities may be the right track. “Things are moving in the right direction for connectivity,’’ Fernandes affirmed.