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Futurist's Pick Of The Month: City States – The Wave of the Future?



The current trends relating to urbanisation, local manufacturing and indoor farming will make the future cities both densely populated and self-sufficient to a great extent. 

With growing self-sufficiency, cities are likely to start acting more independently. When some major cities command almost all of the economic and cultural power of a state, they could start considering whether they would like to throw off the yoke of the central government. After all, in the future, the cities will increasingly be only subsidising the other parts of the country. 

Especially cities with strong identity would be the ones leading the trend. The inhabitants would start to identify more and more with the city itself, as the country becomes less important. Political views would likely drive this development also; the city-dwellers would prefer more international outlook, whereas those outside of them would prefer centring on domestic affairs. 
If such city behaviour becomes wide-spread in some country, the unity of that state might be in jeopardy. Perhaps initially the central government might try to keep the cities from gaining too much power, but this likely proves to be impossible given their large economic, cultural and political influence. 

Many countries might develop towards a federation in which the cities act as independent states which have a common central government directing the foreign and defence policies on their behalf.

In the international arena emergence of a large number of new de facto independent city states could create both positive and negative possibilities.
On the one hand, as the competition between the city states would intensify as there would be no central government to redistribute the income from more fortunate areas to less fortunate ones. For this reason, there could be a strong incentive to create a very business friendly as well as tolerant atmosphere. This would mean that the regulations created by the old states would be revised, creating more space for innovation and investment as well as personal choice. 

The best led city states would feature practical and light regulations which would enable both a vibrant business and art scenes. Such cities would be the winners. The worse-off cities, however, might end up as local fiefdoms of corrupt politicians, or even as dictatorships. 
Although the economic factors would play an important role, various cities would also become hubs for artistic and cultural endeavours. By having larger independence than before, cities could decide focusing on becoming the centre of some specific cultural industry. Also, the cities would also feature various political doctrines and some of them could be ruled by very idealistic, visionary or downright utopia-minded leaders, leading to experimental governmental structures and legislation. 

One of the more problematic aspects of the city states would be the difficulty of creating and implementing of international treaties of any kind. If the number of independent states would rise heavily, the collective ability to come up with universally acceptable norms or agreements could be hampered significantly. However, agile and creative cities might reinvigorate the global economy by making trade easier and less dependent on nation-level politics. 
The emergence of city states would not necessarily affect all countries. Especially those states where the differences in development between areas are the greatest, the cities would have the most to gain from independence. However, also in richer areas, where a single city clearly dominates the economic life, the option for independence would be high.

However unlikely it now seems that some major cities would declare independence, the drivers that could bring about the realisation of such a trend are there and they are growing stronger. How would a world which would be made mostly out of networks of independent cities look like? Would it be a more harmonious and peaceful world, without the tensions related to the nation states? Or would it be a chaotic mess without a cleardirection? And most importantly: what will such a future mean to you? Exciting or frightening? Or both?

Max Stucki
Foresight Analyst @FuturesPlatform


The colliding phenomena in this analysis

City States


As the megacities constitute an ever-growing share of the global economic activity, it is possible that some of them will strive to become independent states. For example, the desire to avoid funding the less developed parts of the country can form the basis for the drive toward independence. National policies perceived as harmful to the city may also act as contributing factors in the background.


City Self-Sufficiency


Future cities may develop towards greater self-sufficiency. In that case, most of the food, energy, and clean water production, as well as recycling would take place within the city, utilising various new technologies.




Urbanisation, which began during the industrial revolution, has continued to the present day. Already now, half of the world's population lives in urban areas, and the portion is expected to grow further.


Lighter regulation


Increasing regulations, ever-expanding bureaucracy and the inability to change old structures seem to waste lots of time and resources. In the future, more straightforward, flexible and less regulation-demanding societal models could become popular. Adoption of such a model would likely have many positive economic and social impacts.


Futurist’s pick of the month (FPOTM) combines current and anticipated trends to create new and surprising images of the future. FPOTM highlights the fact that trends tend to have startling interconnections which may produce extraordinary results. FPM aims to help to see those connections and how they might shape the world.