Don’t Build Cities from Scratch Unless You Need To

By Neel Bhargava

To accommodate the growing and rapidly urbanizing population over the next decades, governments and societies across the world have two options: build new cities or expand existing cities. When faced with this choice (though there will not always be one), expanding existing cities almost always makes the most sense, for several reasons, two of which I describe below.

The first reason is simple but critical: building cities from scratch is difficult. Very difficult. As the case of King Abdullah Economic City (“KAEC”) illustrates, city building involves numerous different tasks, many of which are interdependent. For example, transportation infrastructure must be built before businesses can operate. And schools must be present before people can move into new residences. These dependencies mean that those building new cities face the daunting task of amassing capital – both financial and human – to simultaneously develop and coordinate multiple types of infrastructure. In contrast, expanding existing cities can be done more piecemeal, first building new housing, then attracting new businesses, then expanding mass transit, and so forth. Continue reading

Urban Growth: Old vs. New


If you had asked me yesterday whether I would elect to be on the Masdar project or the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Project, I would have answered Tianjin without a second thought. However, as I sat in class thinking about the cities that I have read about recently, I realized that many of the cities that came to mind were created in the past few decades: Chongqing of China, Naypyidaw of Myanmar, Incheon of South Korea, Brasilia of Brazil, Singapore. Yes, they were always there, as pretty much most of the land where we inhabit have existed way before we evolved into humans. However, the formation of these places into our concept of modern cities is fairly new. I then had an epiphany that Masdar may enjoy more success and impact in the long-term because our assumption that urban growth happening mainly in established cities could be wrong. Continue reading