Making cities globally competitive

FOR the first time, more than half (54%) of the world's population lives in cities and by 2050, the UN predicts that figure will reach 66%.

There is a clear trend for cities to gradually take on ever-greater importance. They have become the world's dominant demographic and economic groupings as well as our most enduring and stable social structures.

The population of the greater Mexico City region, or Shanghai for example, are larger than that of Australia. China's urban Chongqing region is an area the size of Austria. The megacities of the future will be larger than many nations we know today.

So what steps to UK cities need to take to ensure they remain competitive on the global stage?

As the competition for foreign capital investment into cities grows, success is no longer purely about size. Other aspects such as innovation and an ability to transform and adapt to a changing socio-economic landscape, are becoming increasingly important. The UK needs cities to meet people's needs - now and into the future - to drive economic growth locally and nationally.

Collaboration across cities will be key. Scotland, for example, has a programme of seven cities focussed on developing their 'smart' capabilities. Each one is interlinked with the 'Eighth City' being an amalgamation of the other seven. They all have a clear focus on a particular technology or development and the knowledge is then shared across all of the cities.

Infrastructure and develping our futre cities are intrinsically linked. Both are necessary for UK economic stability, security and growth. The challenges city leaders face around funding and financing, coupled with finite resources, means projects need to be prioritised and benefits enhanced.

There are three key essentials to success: Firstly, focussing projects around the different physical and social infrastructure elements of a city but also understanding how they are connected so that benefits can be maximised. Secondly, businesses and residents as the 'users' of the city need to be involved and engaged and infrastructure should be addressing their needs and demands. Finally, innovation should be embraced. Consider the opportunities provided by digital technology and how new commercial models can be used to drive innovation and entrepreneurism.

To remain competitive on the global stage, cities need to harness all their assets - from the built environment, dwellers and intellectual capital. They should build on the elements that make them unique and create places that people want to live, work and play.

Now is the time for the UK's city leaders to plan for success and deliver cities that are resilient for the future by taking swift action today. Cities are complex ecosystems of people, business and buildings - but it's the infrastructure that binds them together.