I have never felt so utterly like a remnant of history as I did when I opened FP's special report on "The 75 Most Dynamic Cities" of 2025. Of the first six cities on the list, five are Chinese. New York is seventh, and Los Angeles twelfth. London clocks in at 21, and Paris at 26. As decisively as the United States passed Europe after World War II, so China will have passed the United States a decade or so from now.
The list, compiled by the McKinsey Global Institute, ranks growth, of course, not absolute position. Tokyo, with its giant metropolitan area, will still generate the most wealth of any city in the world by 2025, and New York will still rank second. But what is striking, and unnerving, is that McKinsey ranks cities not by growth rate but by the absolute difference between its GDP in 2010 and its projected GDP in 2025. On growth rate alone, Chinese cities would occupy 23 of the top 25 slots, with the Indian cities of Delhi and Bangalore rounding out the list. But even though New York's economy is eight times larger than that of Shenzhen, the Chinese metropolis will be growing more in absolute terms than New York by 2025. By 2030, Shanghai and Beijing will be bigger than New York in absolute terms.
They will not, of course, necessarily be better. The ranking is accompanied by articles in FP noting the gross failure of urban planning in China, the mega-traffic jams and pollution, and of course the stifling effect of an authoritarian state. But the new Chinese cities will be more effective than Western ones at generating wealth, as well as at the basic urban business of moving people rapidly, cleanly, and safely from here to there. And they will be new! By contrast, New York and Los Angeles and Chicago, which always felt new compared to European capitals -- not just more recent, but more open to renewal -- will be part of the New Old World.
I don't feel any more ready for this moment of relegation than the average Londoner was in 1950, watching the empire drop away piece by piece. Less so, really, because Britain had already been exhausted by the war, while the United States still leads the world in everything important -- GDP, weapons, action-adventure movies, Olympic gold medals. It seems so ... unfair.
And I don't know China. I have never been to China. Suddenly that admission sounds shameful: I have never seen the future. What I know is the past. India, the developing country where I have spent the most time, inhabited a timeless world when I first started going there in 1976 -- folkloric and shambling and apparently irremediable. That's no longer true, of course. The New Delhi I first knew was the elegant colonial city of British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens; today's Delhi has metastasized in all directions. This is, all in all, a great thing. But Delhi does not threaten to eclipse New York or Paris. As an urban machine, it's not very effective. Delhi's GDP in 2010 was less than one-fifth of Shanghai's.
If I have to be eclipsed by somebody, I would like it to be India. It is a democracy and, almost miraculously, it has held together as a nation despite what Indians like to call "fissiparous tendencies" -- cleavages of language, religion, ethnicity. Perhaps I could live with being eclipsed by "the emerging world" collectively.
But it is not to be: In a separate report, McKinsey estimates that the 440 largest cities in the emerging world will generate half of global GDP growth between now and 2025. And of those cities, slightly more than half will be in China. China is expected to contribute 40 percent of the world's growth in urban GDP between 2010 and 2025. So we should just be honest and say, "China is eclipsing the West."