Are Cities the New Countries?

GEOGRAPHY

Do big cities have more in common with each other than with the rest of their own countries? (BBC)

Use our resources to learn more about cities and urban areas.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit, including a link to the OECD’s Trends Shaping Education report.

Here are some concerns addressed in Chapter 3 of the OECD’s “Trends Shaping Education” report. OECD (2016), Trends Shaping Education 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Here are some concerns addressed in Chapter 3 of the OECD’s “Trends Shaping Education” report.
OECD (2016), Trends Shaping Education 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Discussion Ideas

 

The densely populated nations of Belgium, Japan, and Iceland are the most urbanized on the planet. OECD (2016), Trends Shaping Education 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Click to enlarge! The densely populated nations of Belgium, Japan, and Iceland are the most urbanized on the planet.
OECD (2016), Trends Shaping Education 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris.

 

  • The BBC article and Chapter 3 of the OECD report ask a question: Are there meaningful comparisons between cities such as New York, London, and Shanghai, rather than between nation-states? What concerns or characteristics do cities share that would support answering “yes” to this question? Read through the chapter here for some help—it starts on page 61 and ends on page 75.
    • jobs: Urban areas usually have more job diversity than rural areas. Diversity could mean the types of jobs available, such as retail, manufacturing, communications, or infrastructure. It could also mean diverse extremes of economic inequality.
    • transportation: Urban areas usually have deep investments in transportation infrastructure, including parking and road networks, as well as mass transit systems and bike-sharing programs.
    • housing and social services: Urban areas usually must provide more comprehensive strategies for providing for the common welfare of its residents—places to live, schools, hospitals, business zones.
    • citizen engagement: The population density of most urban areas allow more citizens to be immediately involved in the governance of their communities.
    • security: Urban areas usually must be more vulnerable to security threats than rural areas. According to the OECD, “If you think of security, terrorism and radicalisation, it’s not going to be a challenge for the villages of England or France—it’s going to be large metropolitan areas that are going to have to deal with this.”
    • environment: Urban areas often face a perpetual lack of green space, which may lead to greater pollution and physical and mental health challenges for residents.
    • innovation: Urban areas tend to be technology incubators, “contributing to innovation by bringing people together, fostering ideas, and acting as networks and physical places to conduct businesses.”
    • economy: “The OECD’s figures show how the economic activity of metropolitan areas account for a disproportionate slice of national wealth.”
    • demographics: Most urban areas have much more diverse ethnic populations, food choices, languages spoken, and customs recognized. Moreover, cities have “developed their own cultural and economic micro-climates. Take a London bearded hipster and he might be more at home in Manhattan than a post-industrial part of his own country.”
    • ideas and culture: Many urban areas look a lot alike—for instance, the report tracked “how brands such as Starbucks, H&M, and Zara went from operating in relatively few countries in the early years of the century, to being almost everywhere a decade later.”

 

These concerns are not limited to urban areas. How might rural responses differ from urban responses to urbanization? Transportation? Law enforcement? OECD (2016), Trends Shaping Education 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris.

These concerns are not limited to urban areas. How might rural responses differ from urban responses to urbanization? Transportation? Law enforcement?
OECD (2016), Trends Shaping Education 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris.

  • Why would thinking of urban areas as a unit, as opposed to part of a country, be useful to development?
    • Cities can perhaps more easily learn from each other than from rural areas—they face many of the same challenges. According to one of the study’s authors, “Why is it that city schools in London are so much better than city schools in New York? We should be asking ourselves that question.”
    • Cities may be the most effective sort of government: “small enough to react swiftly and responsively to issues and large enough to hold economic and political power.”

 

  • Return to the central question: Are there meaningful comparisons between cities such as New York, London, and Shanghai, rather than between nation-states? What are some concerns would limit many comparisons between cities?
    • The impact of national identity, politics, culture, and shared history cannot be underestimated.

 

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

BBC: Are cities the new countries?

Nat Geo: What is an urban area?

OECD: Trends Shaping Education 2016

OECD: Trends Shaping Education Quiz

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