Today more than half of the planet’s population lives in cities. By 2035 that figure will rise to 70%. If there is a mega-trend shaping this century, this is it: We are racing toward the urban planet.

Here are some paradigm-shifting facts to consider:

  • Urban dwellers, who occupy just 2% of the world’s surface, use the bulk of the world’s energy, water and other resources.
  • The world’s 600 largest cities contribute 60% of the planet’s gross domestic product (GDP)—and these 600 cities are changing fast.

The McKinsey Global Institute has spelled out this urban future: “Half of global GDP in 2007 came from 380 cities in developed regions, with more than 20 percent of global GDP coming from 190 North American cities alone…. But by 2025, one-third of these developed-market cities will no longer make the top 600; and one out of every 20 cities in emerging markets is likely to see its rank drop out of the top 600. By 2025, 136 new cities are expected to enter the top 600, all of them from the developing world and overwhelmingly—100 new cities—from China.”

We are in the “Age of the City.” That’s the premise behind The Innovation City, an event organized by CityAge and MaRS, taking place on July 18 and 19, 2012. To prosper in this urban future, our cities will be the platform where the world’s business leaders, decision-makers and innovators must come together to shape the century ahead.

There is no shortage of challenges to be faced with this unprecedented move to urbanization, a trend that is redefining both G20 countries and those emerging nations that are seeing unprecedented growth.

But at CityAge, where we bring together the best thinkers in business, academe and society to forge new partnerships, we also see the Age of the City as a tremendous opportunity to build the economy and a sustainable planet through innovation. Cities are where human and financial capital are being deployed to find solutions and create new opportunities. The global pace of city-building is a massive business.

Here are some more numbers to consider:

  • Marketing research company MarketsandMarkets (M&M) estimates that investments in new technologies that will help build more livable and efficient cities will grow from about $500 billion today to more than $1 trillion by 2016.
  • M&M also estimates that capital investments in new urban energy systems will grow particularly quickly, from $22.9 billion in 2010 to an estimated $80.7 billion in 2016.
  • Looking at the trend over the next two decades, the total investments in infrastructure is even larger, M&M reports: “Globally, there are some 700 cities, each with populations exceeding 500,000, that are growing faster than the average growth rate of cities. This opens up the market for industry players to grow their business in new and emerging smart cities. The infrastructure investment for these cities is forecasted to be $30 trillion to $40 trillion, cumulatively, over the next 20 years.”
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What this means is that the city—whether it be Toronto, Tianjin or somewhere in between—is where the world’s investment in the future is being placed. We hope you will join us at the MaRS Centre for The Innovation City to take a look at the vital investments and business opportunities that will define our urban future.

Miro Cernetig

Miro Cernetig is co-founder of CityAge, a platform for dialogue designed to amplify new ideas in business, government and society. He is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker who has worked across Canada, North America and Asia, serving as The Globe and Mail’s bureau chief in Beijing, New York, Edmonton and Vancouver, as well as the Montreal correspondent for the Toronto Star and columnist at The Vancouver Sun. In addition to his work at CityAge, Miro also executes strategic design and branding plans for the private and public sectors. See more…