Why the 21st century will be dominated by the city

In the 21st century, the world will be run by cities, not countries. Author Parag Khanna explains why that's both good and bad -- and how it will change everything.

The 21st century will be dominated by a superpower, but not the one you think.

The future is in the city.

That's according to Parag Khanna, who writes in Foreign Policy that the city will usurp the state -- that is, the nation -- as the "island of governance on which the future world order will be built."

Khanna, the director of the Global Governance Initiative and a research fellow at the New America Foundation, writes that cities are the "engines of globalization" thanks to plenty of money, knowledge and stability. Citing the statistic that only 100 cities account for 30 percent of the world's economy -- "and almost all its innovation" -- Khanna writes that the global village concept is dead, replaced by a network of global cities.

These cities and megacities come at a political price, however.

Khanna writes:

Though no nation can succeed without at least one thriving urban anchor — and even then, a functioning Kabul or Sarajevo is still no guarantee of national survival — it's also true that globalization allows major cities to pull away from their home states, a reality captured by the massive and potentially dangerous wealth gap between city and countryside in second-world countries such as Brazil, China, India, and Turkey.  Now Neither 19th-century balance-of-power politics nor 20th-century power blocs are useful in understanding this new world. Instead, we have to look back nearly a thousand years, to the medieval age in which cities such as Cairo and Hangzhou were the centers of global gravity, expanding their influence confidently outward in a borderless world.

Western cities have dominated since the Industrial Revolution, Khanna writes -- New York and London together represent 40 percent of global market capitalization today, he notes -- but now the trend is toward regionalism: keeping the money within an area, rather than spreading it around the globe.

Khanna cites an Asia-Pacific group that's investing in itself: Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney, and Tokyo. (One could also extrapolate that concept to the U.S. Northeast Corridor -- Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington. Or perhaps London-Paris-Berlin.) He also suggests the same is happening in the Middle East, calling cities like Dubai the "Venices of the 21st century."

Yet Khanna also admits that "cities are spreading like a cancer on the planet's body," many such as Caracas or Karachi or Mumbai with the population but not the planning.

The bottom line? Megacities and global hubs "force us to rethink whether state sovereignty or economic might is the new prerequisite for participating in global diplomacy." Or in other words: controlling a city is controlling a country.

Cities: both virus and antibody, Khanna writes. What do you think?

If you're interested in more reading, Khanna cites the following work in his essay:

Photo: Seoul, South Korea. (Rachel Yoonyoung Choi)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com