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Greg Clark

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The 21st Century is a distinctive moment in human history. For millennia, adaptive humankind has embraced population growth, new technologies, and the spread of civilisation, by building and rebuilding cities. We are now in a great acceleration, and by 2100, almost 10 billion people will live in about 10,000 cities. We are on an anthropological trek towards cities, and are adapting to become an urbanised species.

 

I have been fortunate to work with about 400 cities worldwide, and have witnessed how they are challenged, when and why they evolve, and what helps them work. This has led me to a passionate fascination with place leadership, innovation, investment, the built environment, mobility systems, urban assets & city sustainability.

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The Century of Cities: 100 year trek to the city
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Connected Places Catapult - The Future of UK Cities
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The We Society Podcast, Greg Clark & Will Hutton
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Goodman - How Cities are Changing
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How can Cities Collaborate For Good Urbanisation
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Museum of the Future Dubai - Future of Cities
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The Urban Developer - The Great Australian Dream
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How to Better Design Our Cities
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The Planet of Cities, Greg Clark's regular column
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Georgetown Cities Initiative - The Case for Place
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JLL Podcast - The Future Is Urban
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The Growing Momentum Behind 3Ci
Georgetown Cities Initiative - The Case for Place
JLL Podcast - The Future Is Urban
The Growing Momentum Behind 3Ci
Home: About
The Century of Cities

 

1980 may come to seen as the beginning of our urbanising century. It is just about the year when two things happened simultaneously. 

  • First, decades long processes of de-industrialisation, urban decline, and population losses in cities in OECD countries started to reverse, as globalising service, information, finance, and design industries grew, ushering in a new long cycle of urban revival, repopulation, and regeneration.

  • Second, inspired by the experience of the ‘Asian Tiger’ economies, many more developing nations actively pursued the twin paths of industrialisation and urbanisation, rapidly shifting towards manufacturing, connecting to globalising value chains, building urban infrastructures and growing their urban populations.

We are now in the 5th decade of this century, and each decade has its own story, dilemmas, imperatives, and innovations. The choice is not whether to have urbanisation, but whether that urbanisation is good or bad. This accelerating urbanisation curve means that almost all global challenges are now urban imperatives. The quality of our cities, and the leadership, investment, and innovation they enjoy, determines our future.

The Planet of Cities

 

Cities play a special role in the future of our planet, and this increases as our urban century unfolds.

  • As the concentrations of people, jobs, infrastructure, systems, and consumption, they intensify and emit carbon and produce other effects in heat islands, bio-diversity losses, and embedded carbon.

 

  • At the same time, cities are the most obvious victims of rising temperatures and sea levels that make them prone to poor air quality, flooding, extreme heat & weather, and natural disasters that threaten human health, bio-diversity, and expose fixed assets and ecosystems.

 

  • Cities are also the places where urban innovations shape choices, nudge behaviour changes, and foster new models of investment, consumption, and circularity, as they pursue the path to net zero, bio-diversity loss, and adaptation to a more resilient future. Cities are the pioneers of climate reforms. We say the net zero path = energy switch + urban transition. Maing that transition just and relevant to everyone is a key task of city leaders.

The Magic of Cities

 

What makes a city is people concentration. Proximity between people induces deep interactions that create network effects, co-benefits, multipliers, externalities, and spillovers. These ‘side effects’ of urbanisation can be either positive or negative, and can be shaped by intentional leadership. 

 

Thus, cities can accelerate ideas, foster participation, and drive fusions. The scale of population, activities, and revenues in cities can also support common services and infrastructures, and can drive specialisation in medicine, science, art, sport, media, leisure, and business. Cities can enhance social mobility, increase productivity, enrich assets, deepen civic capital, and spur creativity.

 

Cities can also concentrate and deepen poverty, disadvantage, carbon emissions, crime, and insecurity. Tackling these urban challenges with a new set of integrated approaches is now a global quest.

Cities offer unique concentration, combinations, connections, and experiences. The magic of cities is that they magnify and multiply those interactions with this ‘concentration super-power’.

The DNA of Cities

As we move towards 10 billion people in 10,000 cities, we need to encourage each city to find and play to its unique features and distinctive character. Every city has a form of genetic structure, the combination of endowed, inherited, and acquired traits that come from the planet, its eco-systems, the history, anthropology, people flows, and the human made structures and platforms that accumulate in a city. Cities also have an epigenetics:- the shared experience of place, events, systems, shocks, and unique moments, that vibrate through the synchronised behaviours, mindsets, attitudes, and reactions of the people who intensively share the same common space.   

Unlocking this DNA of Cities is key to crafting a unique story, convening authentic discussion and debate, enriching social capital, articulating a clear prospectus, and building common purpose across the people and institutions of city.      

The Resources of Cities

 

Cities are generally underpowered relative to the imperatives they face. Many of the 10,000 cities where our 10 billion people will live lack institutional authority, financial power, and strategic oversight/coordination. We know the exceptions well, Singapore, Tokyo, Berlin, Vienna; they show us what fully powered cities look like. Most of us live in underpowered cities.  

 

But, in the 5th decade of our urban century some new tools and resources have arrived. The established tool-box of urban policies, city leadership & management, and local strategies are now joined by three new resources in the quest for good urbanisation.

 

  • The first is a new suite of exponential and enabling technologies that drive new urban sectors, enhance city systems, and make city management a common task between business, government, and citizens.

 

  • The second is intentional finance & investment capital which has woken up to scale of the global urban opportunity, and the existential imperative to make cities work.

 

  • The third is the new art of place-leadership, that integrates otherwise separated and fragmented inputs into combined governance, premised on the imperatives of a place, with shared identities and common purposes, rather than sectors, institutions, or political parties. Place leadership builds new forms of civic engagement, social capital, and belonging through new forms of participation at neighbourhood, city, metro/regional, and national levels. A new civic leadership of cities is emerging.

 

Together these tools provide a distinctive additional menu for city leaders to draw upon, and they require a new kind of distributed civic leadership to emerge. 

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