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Eike Wenzel, managing partner of ITZ, speaking at the 2017 Urban Leader Summit in Frankfurt, Germany.

Demographic changes taking root today will affect society and the built environment for decades to come, according to Eike Wenzel, managing partner of the Institut für Trend- und Zukunftsforschung. He spoke about what cities can do to anticipate and adapt to these changes at the ULI Germany Urban Leader Summit in Frankfurt. Wenzel identified a number of forces of change for the next 30 years but focused specifically on the demographic changes seen around the world in developed countries.

Rather than following the three phases of life of our grandparents—youth, working age, retirement—people now experience six stages of life, according to Wenzel:

  • Childhood;
  • Youth and education;
  • Post-adolescence (emerging adults);
  • Rush hour (30–55);
  • Second start; and
  • Unretirement

Rather than winding down, people at age 60 want a new start, Wenzel says. Considering that life expectancy is now beyond 80 years in many Western countries, one person could potentially have three totally different job phases.

A quarter-century ago, the average first birth was in the mid-20s; now, it is more like early 30s or beyond. As people delay having children, more generations of families are living together. That creates more demand for bigger apartments and houses.

Cities have always been drivers of change and create more than half of the world’s value. Cities with strong futures do these six things, Wenzel says:

  1. Have city centers with businesses and plentiful housing for people.
  2. Have a history that people like to tell. When a city has an interesting story, you do not need marketing—the regional identification is a point of pride.
  3. Work in public/private partnerships. Creating jobs and innovation is easier when private industry works with local governments.
  4. Don’t focus on just the highly educated. Ensuring social diversity is essential, and cities need to attract people from all walks of life.
  5. Support startups from local educational institutions. Encouraging students to pursue their projects where they are helps stop “brain drain.”
  6. Actively integrate migrants. Migrants largely want to move to cities, but opportunities to integrate have to be there, or they will move away again.

Wenzel wondered why cities don’t pursue creating online sharing platforms themselves. Startups like Airbnb, Uber, and Facebook create great wealth with algorithms and servers, but they would not work without humans’ desire for connection—and cities have those connections.

“Public trust in federal government in the U.S. dropped in the last 60 years. But trust in the local government is steady,” he said. “Why do we let tech giants control communication?”

Pursuing startup-like solutions to cities’ problems could change the way we deal with food waste, community health, and even citizen journalism and science. “Modern cities are digital portals, a way to connect in a time of fundamental crisis of trust,” Wenzel said. “Digital cities need digital people.”