Courtesy: Aviso

A new measurement - based on satellite images - highlights cities' key role in economic development.

More and more, cities are not just the principle economic drivers and organizers of the world - they are the world. As of half a decade ago, more than half the world’s population lives in cities, up from just 3 percent two centuries ago. By 2050, that percentage could reach 70 percent. And yet our most reliable economic metrics (think GDP) measure national growth.

Until now. Satellite images of the world at night allow us to estimate and compare economic data for cities, metros, and megaregions, an astonishingly reliable measurement known as Light Based Regional Product.

At my talk at the Aspen Ideas Conference, I drew on some of this new LRP-based data to show how much more productive cities are than the nations in which they are located. This is an incredibly hopeful insight. Cities are a fulcrum of economic growth, even in the poorest areas of the world. They are also the ideal ecosystem for humanities’ intellectual and cultural development. The investments we make in them - and hundreds of trillions dollars will be spent in the coming decades, especially in the developing world - will not only yield massive returns in economic growth, but will pay incalculable cultural and political dividends. 

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