The Role of Cities in the 2040 Economy

July 13, 2015

This week, the Roosevelt Institute’s Next American Economy project is releasing a series of thought briefs in which experts examine how the economy will change over the next 25 years. Read the introduction here.

2014 was the year of Big Data (a term that has now fallen out of favor), the Sharing Economy (think Uber and Airbnb), the Internet of Things (your mobile device), and the explosion of data from sensors and daily transactions that are quantifying our everyday lives. In mid-2015, these trends are now a part of our everyday lexicon and daily rituals whether we think about them or not—when we hail a car service, use an app to route our travel itinerary, monitor our fitness levels using Fitbit, or check out energy usage at home.

But behind the scenes it’s all still a bit messy, and there are many unanswered questions. Academics, policymakers, urban thinkers, and citizen advocates are still interpreting and vigorously debating what these trends mean for people, our cities, and how we govern.

In May 2014, the Roosevelt Institute convened a group of economists, researchers, data scientists, policymakers, and academics to speculate on the future of our economy. Drawing on expert projections, my thought brief starts with a focus on our rapidly changing world in 2015 and then looks forward to 2040. It seeks to evaluate how the city is evolving into an urban platform and how new tech-enabled governance models and digital infrastructure will play an important role in supporting new economic growth.

In this thought brief, I explore what the role of cities could and should look like in 2040 and how cities could evolve to address a complex future. I discuss the promising developments and trends that have occurred during the last year and offer two speculations for what the city will look like in 2040 as a dynamic urban platform. There will be a new organizational structure for how municipal governments solve public problems and a new regional, mega-city approach for economic development that is ripe for entrepreneurism. I return to 2015 to present the infrastructure investments—in data, talent, technology, and broadband Internet—that will be required to advance a progressive agenda. I also present a list of questions to be considered. Lastly, I offer a set of recommendations to a fictional mayoral chief of staff on what ideas could be implemented now.