How mass migration will reshape cities

20 febbraio 2022

Foto: Ryoji IwataPhoto: Ryoji Iwata

Due to climate change, billions of people will relocate by the year 2050. Which areas will be abandoned, and where will the population be concentrated? What will be the next urban and infrastructural challenges? These are issues investigated by Parag Khanna, indicated by Esquire as one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century, and included in the “Smart List” of Wired.

Khanna is the founder and managing partner of FutureMap, a global strategic consulting firm based in Singapore, which develops scenarios for governments and private companies. In his latest book Move: How Mass Migration Will Reshape the World – and What it Means for You he explores the near future in relation to the theme of migration, correlating geographies and maps that have previously been disconnected and misaligned. We asked him to explain the effects of migration on the development of cities, and to share some possible scenarios in relation to architecture and work.

Parag Khanna, foto Arenda OomanParag Khanna, photo by Arenda Ooman

D     In “Move” you talk about 4 geographies – natural/environmental, geopolitical, functional and human – describing them as related but misaligned. Could you give us an example?


R     Let’s take the question of worldwide food production. Because of climate change, the geography of food production is shifting north. So you can see that Canada and Russia are becoming among the largest food producers in the world. But the infrastructure – food processing, irrigation, farming equipment, mechanized farming, roads, railways – is very poor in Russia and even in parts of Canada. Things that are needed for the production and distribution of food just stopped, leading to direct economic repercussions. It is fundamental to diversify and to extend the geography of food production to the whole world, correcting the lack of alignment, also to cope with the acceleration of climate change.

Another example is demographics: the differences in the presence of elderly people and young people, reflected in distribution of labor and the need for services. This imbalance has to be corrected, and it will imply the migration of people towards resources, and vice versa. Not only strategies on a governmental level, but universal challenges regarding the dynamics between the public and private sectors.

[Also read the futurologist Matthias Horx - Blautopia – When rebirth is blue]

Brookings Institution, Fondo Monetario Internazionale, Terra NaturaleThe present human population is slightly less than 8 billion. Almost 5 billion people live in Asia, 1 billion in Africa, 750 million in Europe, 600 million in North America and 425 million in South America. (Brookings Institution, International Monetary Fund, Natural Earth)

D      What do you mean by geographical misalignment in terms of architecture or urbanism?


R     Coastal cities, especially in Asia where they contain a huge percentage of the population, such as Jakarta, Hong Kong or Manila, are threatened by rising sea levels. This means that it is important to organize resilient cities that are capable of adapting to climate change. Unfortunately, however, real estate investments do not focus on more inland settlement and new infrastructures, but rely on the existing models, high-rises and skyscrapers.

When we talk about housing, there is a need to invest in what I call “mobile real estate.” We tend to think of real estate as something that is fixed, buildings are fixed and office buildings, especially, are fixed in place. But what if we did more modular construction? Instead of burying buildings in the ground with concrete, we can make movable buildings, focusing on the quality of services and functions, using alternative materials, 3D printing with recycled substances, sustainable buildings that can easily be moved on the back of a truck. This is not science fiction: the Dutch, French and British governments are leading the way in this research. There are German and Finnish companies that offer such solutions. Europe seems to be on the cutting edge of these technologies.

[Also read “Democratic and Inclusive: cities come to grips with the future”].

Creato dal laboratorio di cartografia dell'Università del Wisconsin-MadisonUrban archipelagos represent a growing share of national economies. Moscow, Sao Paulo, Lagos and Johannesburg are representative of growth markets where one city dominates the economic landscape. (Created by University of Wisconsin-Madison Cartography Laboratory)

D     What will be the scenario for workspaces?


R     Though there is a return to the office, it will not be total. The pandemic has caused an irreversible change. There will be a surplus of such spaces on the real estate market, which could be put back into balance by responding to the demands for other types of facilities, such as public or student housing at affordable prices. The real estate sector has to adjust to a scale that is more socio-economic, rather than simply financial. The change on the demand side has also led to the industrial transformation now in progress. Buildings will inevitably become more multifunctional and multi-asset, for growth based on a mix that extends to property as well.

[Also read the interview with Giorgio Donà, of Stefano Boeri Interiors, and Despina Katsikakis, Head of Occupier Business Performance at Cushman & Wakefield].

Foto: Howard BouchevereauPhoto: Howard Bouchevereau

D     Let’s talk about migratory flows. Could you roughly explain the new migratory models on a cultural and geopolitical basis? What scenarios do you see for the future of cities?

R     On a global level, I see the shift of people from south to north, from coastal to inland areas, from lower elevation to higher elevation. New cities in climate resilient areas are going to thrive. It could be places like Calgary or Toronto in Canada, but also cities in central or northern England, Moscow or Berlin. A lot of people say cities will be the losers of the pandemic, but I disagree – the city always wins. The requirement is resilience: cities that are resilient to climate, technologically connected, with suitable infrastructures and economically affordable, with good levels of healthcare and hygiene. Detroit, Michigan is a climate resilient city, but it is still losing people due to the effects of deindustrialization. For success, places have to be able to welcome innovation, to be dynamic and appealing for young people.

Organizzazione Internazionale per le Migrazioni, McKinsey & Co., OCSE, Nazioni Unite, Banca MondialeLa maggior parte della migrazione avviene all'interno di regioni o tra regioni adiacenti. Il più grande stock migratorio è tra le ex repubbliche sovietiche, seguite dalla popolazione dell'Asia meridionale nei paesi del Golfo. (Organizzazione Internazionale per le Migrazioni, McKinsey & Co., OCSE, Nazioni Unite, Banca Mondiale)

D     What are you working on after “Move”?


R     I’m working on an algorithm called Climate Alpha, a technology or software platform that will help to rank the future performance of real estate assets depending on different climate change scenarios. It is a private start-up, and the algorithm is already up and running.

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