The world’s urban centers have experienced unprecedented growth in recent decades, with the global population rising from 751 million in 1950 to 4.2 billion in 2018. By 2030, 43 megacities, of over 10 million inhabitants each, will be established. Rapid urbanization is taking place disproportionately in African and Asian countries, with results at scale in China, India, and Nigeria.
Ostensibly a demographic shift, this is a bellwether of the next phase in a megatrend that presents distinct foreign policy opportunities and challenges, stemming from transformations in communities, states, and international affairs. Domestically, states struggle to meet the housing, energy, and transportation needs of their ever-expanding citizenries. Internationally, states face changing landscapes of cooperation and competition, and transnationally pervasive trends in democracy and authoritarianism, protest, identity and historical memory, corruption, and climate change play out in rural and urban sites that would be alien to residents a generation ago. Indeed, states themselves cede political ground to cities at both domestic and international levels.
What does this mean for our understanding of international relations and foreign policy? How should scholars, policy practitioners, business leaders, and social changemakers think about increasing urbanization, and how should we adapt?
A decade ago, the Journal examined this megatrend in an issue entitled Future of the City, at a time when the contemporary period of discussion around rapid global urbanization was in what we now understand to be a nascent and idealized phase. We invite readers to read that issue alongside this one, and to notice the differences between observations then of a megatrend whose wave had not quite emerged, and observations now of a wave cresting with our view obscured. The two complement each other well, as foundational ideas, perhaps oxidized, raised therein are found throughout this issue.
These contributions taken together seek to provide a valuable contemporary examination of how the growth and proliferation of cities, and the contemporary entities and dynamics in international affairs, are shaping and transforming each other. The contributions within accomplish this by examining the international as well as transnational, and communities and nations as well as cities themselves. The world subject to rapid global urbanization calls into question the human in the international.
Included here are contributions from scholars and policy practitioners from around the globe and from a variety of vantage points. Many are in dialogue with each other’s body of work implicitly as well as, on occasion, explicitly, and there is a distinct sense of synthesis upon examination of the full set of pieces that follow. Specifically, the articles, for the most part, focus on city diplomacy, urban informality and community-based resilience in urban settings, responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and inequality. Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Pacific island states, and Europe are studied closely, and multilateral organizations and transnational networks are interrogated.
Several academic essays form the backbone of this issue. Daniel Pejic and Michele Acuto open by tackling the ever-expanding but still under-examined phenomenon of city diplomacy, integrating theory and practice on the cutting edge of the academic discussion. Researchers and practitioners from the ARISE consortium contribute valuable research on contemporary urbanity in the Global South amid the pandemic, studying bottom-up public health responses from informal settlements in South Asia. Deborah Potts frames the urban-rural divide from the perspective of global urban livelihood shifts. Garth Myers and Daniel Agbiboa look at two of the greatest transnational challenges of the age, climate change and COVID-19, in Sub-Saharan Africa from multiple levels of analysis. Misael Galdamez and Amy Glasmeier apply new research on urban inequality to the phenomenon of megacity proliferation. Janina Stürner-Siovitz traverses the realm of global governance from all angles to integrate the global and local. And Xuefei Ren evaluates China’s COVID-19 policy response in major cities over time.
Arguments, the Journal’s mid-length analytical pieces that cover a specific or contemporary topic, are trenchant and expansive in this issue. Benjamin Leffel insightfully treats the city diplomacy state of play, and Ian Klaus offers a practitioner’s take from someone who led the charge in the 2010s at the U.S. State Department. Eugenie Birch and William Burke-White examine city multilateralism after COVID-19; Sameh Wahba, Maitreyi Das, and Yuna Chun analyze a number of new cases of post-conflict resilience and reconstruction, once again looking bottom-up from the viewpoint of the municipality. Alan Chong and Hai Ri (Sophia) Jeon offer windows into smart city practice, both promising and ugly, in Singapore and South Korea, respectively. Siautu Alefaio-Tugia offers a timely treatment of bottom-up disaster resilience processes and the role of an urbanized diaspora in the Pacific. Jakub Bartoszewski and Michael Martin Richter offer a stimulating analysis of a city as a boundary and preserve of an ideology, with Warsaw as a bastion of liberalism and a bridge between Eastern and Western European traditions.
Alongside article contributions, we are once again proud to share several Features, or interviews, with urban policy practitioners. In these dialogues, the human and community elements are illustrated most substantively. In addition, the wide-ranging conversations touch on nearly the full range of first principles surrounding this issue area, and are a fantastic place for the reader to start if they are looking to build an understanding of this issue area from scratch.
As ever, this issue aims to support and shape the intellectual environment holistically and practically, and we see plenty of opportunity for the reader to sharpen and expand upon what is raised in these pages. We hope that the variety of the contributions contained within challenges the reader to develop connections between bodies of knowledge, literature, and insight, that would not otherwise take place. We simply ask the reader to approach this material with an open mind, a critical eye, and imagination. We hope to continue the dialogue, and invite correspondence and article contributions online.