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Living in an aging world

Four old people sitting on a bench.

The world’s top 750 cities will experience profound demographic shifts over the next 15 years. For one, the world will be urbanizing rapidly: by 2030, the populations of these leading cities will increase by an estimated 410 million.

What’s more, the changes in birth rates and the longer life spans will have a transformative effect on housing patterns, labor participation, and infrastructure use.

Almost everywhere, urban populations are aging. According to Oxford Economics’ Global Cities report, more than 150 million additional residents over age 65 will populate the world’s top cities by 2030. And roughly 40 percent of these seniors – or 61 million – will live in China’s leading cities.

The challenges associated with a graying population — rising pension and health costs, labor shortages, creating access, offering home health care — are substantial. However, in many developed economies the so-called “silver economy” also represents a powerful new demographic force with higher accumulated wealth than other groups and distinctive consumer preferences.

"Accommodating an aging population will increase the city’s attractiveness to other residents."

Cities will need to adjust policies and rethink resources to support this aging demographic.

A 2007 report by the World Health Organization report, Global Age-friendly Cities, identifies some of the cities friendliest to aging populations—those with the best roads and green spaces, accessible transportation options, affordable and properly-designed housing, and opportunities for social participation. (The 35 cities that were most “age-friendly” included New York, Istanbul, Edinburgh, Shanghai and Tokyo.)

Making these adjustments for an aging population will of course improve quality of life for this important demographic group, but will also increase the city’s attractiveness to other residents.

While populations in the US, Europe and China are aging rapidly, some regions, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia, will also see a sharp increase in their youthful population. In fact, nearly 90% of the total expansion in 0¬– to 14-year olds in the top 750 cities will be in Africa’s cities.

This explosion of youth could serve as a major engine of economic growth in years to come, especially if the young receive education and develop new skills that contribute to the workforce.

Cities with an explosion of youth populations will need to put the infrastructure and housing in place to support the upcoming generation.

Perhaps more importantly, they will need to focus on creating jobs for these youth to fill as they enter the labor force.

Creating such opportunities increases the likelihood of developing a productive local workforce—which will in turn spur economic development and improvements to city life.

Some cities will get younger, while most will get grayer. Both trends create challenges for cities –as well as opportunities. The key to maximizing their potential is to best understand how policy, infrastructure development, and labor supply within each community will be affected by these underlying trends.

One of the business sectors that will experience both the opportunities and the challenges associated with city growth will be logistics.

The opportunities will come in the shape of vast new markets, the chance to demonstrate the ability to master economies of scale and to leverage new efficiency technologies to the benefit of both the environment and the bottom line.

But these opportunities will only accrue to those organisations that can overcome the challenges. Already acute difficulties with air quality and congestion will, without very deft handling on the part of both the cities and the transport sector, become worse and potentially threaten to erode the ability of organisations to capitalize on the opportunities.

Innovation will be the key to success. The existing engineering and operating models will not suffice. Alternative technologies will be needed for vehicles, as indeed will completely new types of vehicle and new ways of operating.

Some organisations are already experimenting, finding out what works, starting to scale up. Their future is bright. Those left behind might find the challenges outweighing the opportunities sooner than they think.

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About Longitudes

Longitudes explores and navigates the trends reshaping the global economy and the way we’ll live in the world of tomorrow: logistics, technology, e-commerce, trade and sustainability. Which path will you take?

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