Cities are getting bigger

Redwood Comment
Published:  30 May, 2018
Dr Mike Redwood

What is a city?  It is a question often asked and one the tanning community should have some interest in. Recent studies show that large cities in emerging markets might grow far beyond the 32 million predicted by Danny Dorling, which I discussed here back in 2014. The 2100 projections include Lagos (88.3), Kinshasa (83.5), Dar es Salaam (73.7), Mumbai (67.2), Delhi (57.3) and even Kabul (50.2). This excludes the big Chinese coastal regions such as Shanghai and Guangzhou where the metropolitan, urban and administrative areas all vary creating a number for Guangzhou, which today jumps from 12 to 44 million depending on definition.

The authors, Hoornweg and Pope[1], suggest that these large cities should be defined largely by the extent of the area in which people typically travel for regular employment. Often as implied by the Chinese figures, they are comprised of many smaller cities. For instance, metropolitan Sydney in Australia is administered by 38 local governments, Toronto in Canada by 29, and Lagos in Nigeria by 16. Yet, they are all linked in a way that makes the whole cohesive. For cities like Tokyo, the transport and communication linking is immensely smooth, while in Chongqing in China it is more rudimentary, taking two days to cross some parts by road, yet improving fast.

 

Dorling expects a levelling nearer 32 million

The 2050 projections are nearer to the level at which Dorling has indicated he expects a levelling out. Here are some of the numbers: Mumbai (42.4), Delhi (36.2), Dhaka (35.2), Kinshasa (35.0), Kolkata (33.0), Lagos (32.6) and Karachi (31.7).

Apart from special locations like Singapore, larger cities tend to be quite challenged by the “boundary issue” but Dorling helps us with the term ‘hinterland’. These large connected metropolitan urban areas are hubs of economic development and innovation, with larger cities underpinning regional economies and local sustainability initiatives. Having been on a tiny Scottish island four hours by ferry from the mainland for the last few weeks, I felt very much in the hinterland. Yet, a daily commercial flight gets you to Scotland’s huge industrial capital in less than an hour. Given the changing nature of work, there are those who can combine living on the island with a job in city, mixing commuting with working from home.

When we consider a city and its hinterland, with other smaller towns included, with numbers around 32 million or so in total, it is logical that many will have locations that are somewhat isolated, and very rural. This likely means that a lot will have long term grazing land and associated livestock.

Time to rethink tannery location

The move of leather production from the developed to developing world was promoted by the world bank and UNIDO in the Quito meeting of 1972, because the emerging world had large amounts of raw material and the work involved in making footwear and other leather items was labour intensive. The phase of globalisation that begun in the 1990s has forced a rethink of all this, creating some of the problems the world is struggling with right now.

Many regions have now lost all leather production and watch their hides and skins being exported raw, loaded with common salt, dung, flesh and hair. Meanwhile, quite a lot of production of items from leather has polarised towards either being much more automated (certainly mechanised) or, at the other extreme, much more craft-oriented.  Long supply chains in time or geography are becoming less popular on environmental and customer service grounds.

So, while there will always be specialised sectors like automotive, saddlery, even premium suede production, and areas such as Italy with vibrant skills, generally speaking, we can expect to see more of a locational levelling out of leather production around the world and some return of tanning to regions where too much has slipped away.  A call was made at the WLC in Shanghai last September for all hides to be traded in wet-blue rather than raw. I do not see this as happening but the sentiment makes sense. The development of a new city structure should allow for the collection and treatment of hides and skins, with more being handled fresh, and their onward distribution to local tanneries and export as required. And, if it is recognised that we are now in a world of wet-white, wet-brown as well as wet-blue, a raw material could become available to allow the development and growth of modern leather making units in every city around the world, with an ability to provide leather for a variety of end uses to feed the local economy.

Dr Mike Redwood

May 29, 2018

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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[1] Population predictions for the world’s largest cities in the 21st century DANIEL HOORNWEG AND KEVIN POPE