Urban World: A new iPad app for exploring an unprecedented wave of urbanization

The growth of cities in emerging markets is driving the most significant economic transformation in history. The McKinsey Global Institute’s new iPad app, Urban World, offers a sense of how economic power will move as this urban expansion takes place. The app offers previously unavailable data from a proprietary MGI database of more than 2,600 cities around the world.

The app also places urbanization in a historical context, using a view from space of the global nighttime distribution of light as a proxy for the global distribution of economic activity. Users can visualize the world’s shifting center of economic gravity during the past two millennia, to 2025. The app serves a purpose similar to a 16th-century map—a rough but helpful tool to help navigate the evolving urban world.

Corporate strategists, urban planners, economic historians, and geography buffs alike can use the app’s interactive map to compare individual cities on their GDP, population, and income levels in 2010 and one scenario for 2025.

The growth of some urban markets can exceed that of entire nations, which is why cities matter for strategy. Companies can use the data to compare the economic growth from different cities. For example, Vienna had roughly the same GDP in 2010 as Istanbul. By 2025, the scenario presented in the app shows that the GDP of Istanbul will be comparable to the entire country of Austria. Auckland (New Zealand) had roughly the same GDP in 2010 as New Delhi but, by 2025, the GDP of New Delhi will be almost as great as the GDP of the entire country of New Zealand.

MGI research finds that the annual consumption of citizens in emerging markets will reach $30 trillion by 2025, and the GDP of these markets will exceed that of developed countries. Business leaders recognize that emerging markets hold the key to long-term success—but that they also pose daunting challenges. Many companies’ financial results reflect that ambivalence. In 2010, 100 of the world’s largest companies headquartered in developed economies derived just 17 percent of revenue from emerging markets—despite the fact that those markets account for 36 percent of global GDP. Companies that neglect these new markets risk missing out as much as 70 percent of global GDP growth between now and 2025.

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