Are super-rich cities sustainable?

Steve Lewis, the CEO of Living PlanIT, says that over 50% of global wealth is based in just 25 cities. Is this growing level of inequality sustainable, and if not, can we change it?
Political theorists like Ralph Miliband have observed that the essential driver within capitalism is that of Capital Accummulation. This driver creates the instability: the relentless growing bubble, the collapse, and then the next cycle starts. Karl Marx was an optimist when he said these cycles would eventually end with a paradigm shift (revolution) of fairness for everyone. A pessimist might wonder if instead there is no end to these cycles, no revolution, just repeated cycles of unstable accummulation.
In which case, will it be that the richest cities just keep getting even richer still, while the rest of the urbanised world gets left behind?
The answer to relentless Capital Accummulation is usually in the regulations, laws and taxes that chip away and partially constrain this growing capital, for example through anti-monopoly laws. But how could we regulate the growth of the richest cities, other than by pricing people out of these cities? Most capital controls are place-blind, and price pressures without regulation lead to issues such as overcrowding and slum housing. One alternative approach is being tried in China, where citizens who are authorised to live in a city receive additional civil rights when compared with workers who have migrated without authorisation from rural areas to find work. Whether this dual approach will rebalance the different growth rates of various Chinese cities remains to be seen, and at what personal costs.
And even if price pressures do become strong enough in Western cities to eventually limit the remorseless growth of the richest of the cities, it will be key workers in sectors such as mass transit / public transport, health care, education, security, that will be having to survuve under the most pressure, adding to the unsustainability of these elite cities.
Previously, one of the methods which acted as a safety valve was mass emigration such as that from Europe to the ‘new world’. However, with over six billion people living on the planet now, there are no more new worlds out there to take the strain. We have still to learn how One Planet Living will pan out for us, and this must surely include our learning how best to regulate the richest of the world’s cities for all our sakes.

What if … you could design a city? Jane Wakefield, BBC technology reporter.

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