Here are salient facts from a not-great Newsweek International cover story on the world’s most dynamic cities:
Great cities like London, New York and Tokyo loom large in our imaginations. They are the places people still associate with fortune, fame and the future. . . The last half century has been their era, as the number of cities with more than 10 million people grew from two to 20, as now famous names like Rio, Mexico City and Mumbai joined the list. But . . . [t]he typical growth rate of the population within a megacity has slowed from more than 8 percent in the '80s to less than half that over the last five years, and their number is expected to stagnate in the next quarter century. Instead, the coming years will belong to a smaller, far humbler relation—the Second City.
Within a year or so, more people will live in cities than in the countryside for the first time in human history: the 21st century will be an urban one. But increasingly, the urban core itself is downsizing. Already, half the city dwellers in the world live in metropolises with less than half-a-million residents. Second Cities—from exurbs to regional hubs, resort towns to provincial capitals—are booming. Between 2000 and 2015, the world's smallest cities (with under 500,000 people) will grow by 23 percent, while the next smallest (1 million to 5 million people) will grow by 27 percent. . .
[O]f the top 150 fastest-growing cities in this size class, the most by far, 55, are in China, followed by an intense boomlet of 12 in Indonesia, and 10 in India. . .
the emergence of Second Cities has flowed naturally (if unexpectedly) from the earlier success of the megacities. In the 1990s, megalopolises boomed as global markets did. . . The result has been the creation of what demographer William Frey of the Washington-based Brookings Institution calls "gated regions"—places like New York, London, Tokyo—in which both the city and many of the surrounding suburbs have become unaffordable for all but the very wealthy.
One reaction to this phenomenon is further sprawl—high prices in the urban core and traditional suburbs drive people to distant exurbs with extreme commutes into big cities. . .
Why does one town become a booming Second City while another fails? The answer hinges on whether a community has the wherewithal to exploit the forces pushing people and businesses out of the megacities. One key is excellent transport links, especially to the biggest commercial hubs. . .
Another growth driver for Second Cities is the decentralization of work, driven in large part by new technologies. . .
Today it's easier for Second Cities to build self-sustaining economies, independent of megacities, as firms and workers look to avoid the problems of major urban centers. "Economically, after a city reaches a certain size, its productivity starts to fall," notes Mario Pezzini, head of the regional-competitiveness division of the OECD in Paris. He puts the tipping point at about 6 million people, after which real estate costs, travel times, and the occasional chaos (witness the recent Paris riots) "create a situation in which the center of the city may be a great place, but only for the rich, and the outlying areas become harder to live and work in."