Youth Perspectives

Are megacities the future of democracy?

Geoffrey B. West
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Megacities were named one the 10 biggest trends for 2014 by Global Agenda Council Members in the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Outlook report.

“People have begun to realize that cities are beginning to play the dominant role in the dynamic of the planet,” Geoffrey West, Distinguished Professor of the Santa Fe Institute and Chairman of the Global Agenda Council on Complex Systems, said at the end of the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda. West wrote about the growing importance of megacities in the Outlook report.


More than half the world’s population now live in cities and generate 80% of global GDP, according to the World Bank. Megacities –

urban areas with populations of more than 15 million people – are most often unplanned and shaped by the people who live in them. They are complex centres of poverty, innovation and opportunity.

“You can see that the dynamic could evolve with the megacities being the de facto unit of governance, even if states still exist,” West said. “The real action, the real decision processes that affect people’s lives are determined by cities … but cities are not a scaled down version of a state because they have a much more diffuse kind of governance. Mayors don’t really rule a city in the same way you think of a government determining many things about a city.”

“Megacities are becoming more and more like that I think. I think there’s that potential [to be a governance model],” he added. “There has been this recognition and therefore there’s been an interest in developing a deeper understanding of cities.”

West, a theoretical physicist by training, is one of the leading proponents of “the science of cities”. He has applied lessons from physics and biology to create models of how cities around the world scale similarly in size and characteristics.

“I consider it to be the problem of the 21st century,” noted West, adding that he hopes there will be an even closer focus on cities at future summits. “We have urbanization, but I don’t think people recognize what a critical role the cities themselves play.”

Author: Geoffrey West is a Distinguished Professor at the Santa Fe Institute and Chairman of the Global Agenda Council on Complex Systems.

Image: Lines of cars are seen in a traffic jam in Yangon REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun.
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