The Great Powers and Urbanization Project

Over the course of the early twenty-first century, global economic and demographic trends have increased the relative importance of urban spaces, and cities themselves have organized collectively in the face of transnational challenges.

While cities and mayors have increasingly moved into the international arena, heightened geopolitical tensions have demonstrated that the nation-state, and tensions between nation-states, will still shape much of the future. Great power politics and urbanization are not separate phenomena. Peace, power, and prosperity in the twenty-first century will require urban expertise, as will solving global problems around climate change, migration, and equitable development. Successful powers will build stable and innovative cities at home while projecting influence, and at times military strength, in urban settings abroad.

The Great Powers and Urbanization Project, or GPUP, was a collaboration of global leaders in international and urban affairs: the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, the University of Melbourne’s Connected Cities Lab, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Argentine Council for International Relations (Consejo Argentino para las Relaciones Internacionales), the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), and the African Centre for Cities.

GPUP took as its premise that neither the city, nor the nation-state, nor geopolitical rivalry are in retreat at the start of the twenty-first century. To the contrary, while the international system slowly evolves in the twenty-first century, great powers are increasingly competing for influence in regions around the world. GPUP sought to ask how can foreign policies be constructed, global governance reformed, and stakeholders represented in an era of competition and urbanization, including both the physical growth of urban areas and the increase in the number of people living in cities or otherwise urban spaces.

To begin to answer those questions, GPUP examined the divergent approaches—often top down—being taken in cities within emerging powers; it outlined the institutions, networks, and infrastructures through which geopolitical trends are crossing borders to influence urban development; and, uniquely, it explored the new modalities—including networks and cyber-attacks—through which states are projecting influence and power in urban spaces abroad. Through convenings and policy briefings around the world, written outputs, and multimedia communications, GPUP served as a platform for scholars and practitioners to engage with the intersection of geopolitics and urbanization, and provided policy analysis and guidance for policymakers at the local, national, and international levels.