Civilisations grow, and always bloom, in cities. Some of the best-known and influential civilisations, which shaped the Western world, developed in the Mediterranean area: in 1000 BC, Phoenician city-states, such as Byblos, Tyre and Sidon, arised in the Lebanese coasts.
Cities are always present in the Mediterranean history. Along the seashore, on the dense, ancient cultivated fields, trade activities were developed, sea routes were outlined and the Mediterranean space was built.
Cities roughly account for 2% of the Earth’s surface, but still 50% of the planet’s population lives in them; this figure is expected to rise to 75% in 2050, which means urban population is growing steady and has risen above the symbolic 50% threshold. In the next decade, about 500 cities will have more than one million inhabitants each, including several mega-cities with more than 20 million inhabitants.
Such growth is even more relevant in the Mediterranean region, especially in North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey. According to UNO estimates, 66% of the people in the aforementioned regions will be living in cities by 2025.
Consequences are quite disturbing: cities now use up to 75% of total energy production and are responsible for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions all over the world. Beyond the environmental impact, a massive concentration of people in urban areas puts great strain on access to healthcare, education, transport and water and electricity supply. A new sustainable model of urban development should be created as soon as possible.
"Contrast: the South Mediterranean shore does not face the same challenges as cities in the North Mediterranean shore"
Cities find themselves in a paradoxical situation. They foster development, are involved in most industrial and commercial activities and their contribution to national wealth is somewhere between 50% and 80% of the GDP (depending on the country). Nevertheless, such a leading role does not, in most cases, provide economic return, as national governments collect taxes without providing a fair redistribution of wealth. Several cities find themselves in this situation, such as Cairo, which represents 77% of the GDP of Egypt. Other leading cities include Istanbul, Beirut, Casablanca and Algiers, as well as Barcelona, Paris, Milan or Athens. Mediterranean Cities, instead of countries, will be the driving forces towards wealth in the future.
Working hard to become a Smart City
Cities are economic driving forces. As the main generators of job places and wealth in a country, they create goods and provide services that strengthen economic opportunities for the whole country. Nevertheless, they face multiple challenges, and become a “magnifying mirror” of all the difficulties countries need to handle in a a globalization process that does not favour them and that makes it hard for them to adapt.
Working hard to become a Smart City could be the right way to find a solution. Upon investing on creative and social capital and the introduction of technology, a Smart City fosters economic competitiveness, efficiently manages its resources and hard infrastructure and involves citizens in governance issues. Thus, sustainable economic and urban development is promoted, and quality of life improves for citizens.
But no two Smart City are equal; each of them has features that are only their own. Cities in the South Mediterranean shore do not face the same challenges as cities in the North Mediterranean shore.
Most of the needs in Mediterranean cities focus on providing and maintaining infrastructure: roads, power stations, water treatment plants, sewage systems, transport systems… Planning a city with the proper infrastructure, instead of just copying existing models, implies that tests and analyses about how sustainable cities may and should grow are considered reliable.
A role model
The Mediterranean city model -compact, complex, efficient, socially stable and capable of preserving itself while adapting to today’s world- is one of the main pillars of the strategy, which includes the whole set of guidelines suggested for each policy area.
In this sense, public-private partnerships become more and more important as a model for active participation, even if in most Mediterranean cities such cooperation remains insufficient. Nevertheless, successful experiences in cities such as Barcelona or Milan have shown that cooperation makes it possible to tackle strategically-minded projects and significantly contribute to its development.
It is important to prioritize good governance and agreements between the different agents in a city, as long as the institutional framework that ensures transparency is established. This would make it possible to take on larger projects, and it would ensure the required stability in the strategic options chosen by the city.
We should focus on home-friendliness, not only profitability. Cities should not only be an efficient place to make business; they should also be nice places to live, and provide unique offers to attract companies and talent. Cities constantly compete against each other, and the role played by identity is a fundamental aspect. The unique set of features of many cities is threatened by the pressure to adapt to standards. As a consequence, positioning oneself and building a reputation is an essential issue.
Several conditions and processes shape the identity of a city and its competitiveness, such as urban quality, economy evolution, resident satisfaction and cohesion. Such factors, taken together, will be the key to success.
Mediterranean cities of the future (and the future is now) are innovative and entrepreneur cities, those that adapt to the new, fully connected world which offers new job places and new economic possibilities. These are the fundamental parameters; a city will be attractive as long as it remains different.
*Anwar Zibaoui is an expert in Economy, International Relations and Economic and Business Exchange between Europe and the Mediterranean, as well as the Persian Gulf economies. He fosters and manages several international economic fora. Besides, he is a Board Member in several companies and institutions.
By Anwar Zibaoui
Anwar Zibaoui is an expert in Economy, International Relations and Economic and Business Exchange between Europe and the Mediterranean, as well as the Persian Gulf economies. He fosters and manages several international economic fora. Besides, he is a Board Member in several companies and institutions.