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The Influencers

The Rise of Meta Cities: A Lesson in Humanity

INFLUENCER: Kate Howe, Managing Director, gyro London, on learning the ways of a whole new urbanisation phenomenon

The Rise of Meta Cities: A Lesson in Humanity

Once there were the megacities – London, New York, Tokyo – with populations of more than 8 million. Today, a new breed called ‘meta cities’ is emerging; cities of the future that sprawl across geographic, regional and national boundaries. They comprise of people striving for greater equality, better freedoms, more opportunities and a bigger voice. But what’s at stake for the creative industries?

The connected consumer, climate change, mass migration, AI and big data are all at risk. This is not news to us. Consider this instead: The area from Hong Kong to Shenzhen to Guangzhou (a region in South China that is 26 times larger than Greater London) is home to over 120 million people and a massive manufacturing base. A 932-mile Indian industrial corridor has developed between the cities of Mumbai and Delhi. Nigeria’s Lagos, the fastest growing megacity in the world, is expanding at more than five per cent a year. Meta cities are conurbations of more than 20 million people, but we are not talking merely size here. Take another look at these metropolises. They speak of human vibrancy, an entrepreneurial spirit and commercial dynamism.

That is what makes it so very exciting. If this is where the future of urbanisation is happening, then this is where the new hubs of commerce, culture and information will emerge from. We all saw the images of the 100,000 migrant workers stuck in Guangzhou’s main railway station during their journeys home for the Chinese New Year – the greatest annual human migration on earth. It was a fascinating spectacle to watch, because it is more than just a story of migrant workers and a rail network under pressure. It is a story of people hurtling towards modernity and greater economic freedom.

The questions our industry fails to ask itself are: In a world where the pressures of migration, globalisation, economic development, social inequality and climate change are having a profound effect on all of us, how do we respond as a brand, a business and an agency to build relationships with people around us? What creative tools are we employing to tackle some of these challenges in a humanly relevant fashion?

The future lies not in digital, data and integration, or even in mobile. It is about responding to real human needs with expansive ideas.

With the rise of these meta cities, pundits are predicting an evolution of urban space, a transformation of the car-centred urban models, a change in the use of water and energy resources, and a spurt in social capital with an increased interaction between social and economic groups. This will be brought on by creativity and inventiveness. What, then, is stopping the creative industries becoming part of this conversation? Where do we stop our obsession with ‘consistently engaging’ with one congruous idea across multiple touch points? We have to do better than this.

Just take a look at some of these meta cities. By 2020, Mumbai, Delhi, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, New York, Dhaka, Jakarta and Lagos all will have achieved meta city status. Many of these cities we all know are centres of chaos but also creativity. Out of the disruption in the streets of Delhi, of Jakarta, even Lagos, comes innovation, which is inspiring people to explore solutions that can help people live their lives better. It cannot only be the responsibility of the governments, urban planners, or the people living in it to answer the economic and social demands. Brands and businesses will also have to provide creative solutions to combat the challenges of space, pollution, food, water scarcity, social care, health, traffic jams, human capital and social enterprise.

There is an epic challenge ahead of us. Currently, the planet's human population is doubling about every 39 years. By 2050, the U.S. population alone will have increased by the equivalent of adding four more states the size of California. It took 10,000 generations to reach a world population of 2 billion in 1930, whilst it only took us a decade in the 1990s to produce around 1.5 billion more (not to mention all the environmental and humanitarian losses this overpopulation problem is causing)! Tokyo is already a meta city, while eight other emerging markets  – Mumbai, Shanghai, Jakarta, Beijing and Karachi in Asia; São Paulo and Mexico City in South America; and Lagos in Africa – are heading in the same direction, according to the Financial Times.

The future lies in the cities in the Global South. This is where our changing consumer will come from. It’s bewildering and exciting in equal measure, but if businesses do not learn the new behaviours of this new urbanisation phenomenon, they will find themselves on the outside looking in. This calls for a new, more human, and a more intimate way to look at the challenges of the explosive growth of our cities and its people. There really is no other choice. 

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