SDG 11: Cities SDG 16: Institutions

Age of Migration 2: the new destination cities

Does your city compete to become the best place to live and run a business? Well, if you have the right location and resilience plan in place, you may be positioned to compete on a brave new front.

The Entry

Second of a two-part series. According to estimates, as many as one billion people are expected to flee extreme climate impacts by 2050, an astonishing consequence that will change the face and fate of the world’s cities. This story looks at the ones on the receiving end.


Nashville’s cultural scene is outrageous. It’s not called Music City by accident. The vibe, in fact, is one of the driving forces behind the city’s spot as the 11th best to live and 7th fastest growing in the country, according to US News & World Report and Forbes, respectively.

Dallas may not have the same music scene, but the city has been busy pulling other levers to earn 3rd place honors on both lists.

Minneapolis does not show up as high on the fastest-growing ranking, but it is a solid 9th best place to live.

Visionary cities not just in America, but around the world, trip over each other and compete ferociously to grab those top spots, along with such others as best place to run a business, best for corporate site relocations, best for start-ups, best for millennials, best for families. Success breeds success.

And now, there is a whole new wrinkle fast emerging in this competition, a new list waiting to be done: the best cities for resilience and adaptation.

Perhaps it will be The Guardian coming out with the ranking. After all, it was the British newspaper that just two weeks ago today broke new ground with this landmark story declaring a new “era of climate mass migration.”

The first part of this Resilience Journal two-story series digs into the source of this epic wave, as families, companies and entire communities are uprooted and forced to flee when their cities are devastated or somehow made unlivable by the post 1.5º Celsius climate coming as soon as next decade.

The Guardian story, for its part, includes experts speculating on the scale and pattern that migration is likely to take. “The population shift gathering pace is so sprawling that it may rival anything in US history.”

The difference maker

Which begs the question: Where will those tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of people choose to go, along with their companies and myriad other organizations and institutions?

For receiving or destination cities, that is THE question, the new “best for” paradigm and space in which to compete.

Climate-bruised migrants, that is, will naturally prefer cities with the most robust adaptation plans in place, since they will be perceived to be best able to withstand whatever the climate throws at them and to promise the lowest-risk, highest-quality of life, fun and business, within the circumstances.

And so we ask: is your city positioning itself today, already, to be on that list? If so, the time has come to insert your adaptation policies, your resilience mindset and culture, in your “move here” pitch and campaigns. If you’re not yet in the game, what on Earth are you waiting for?

For decades, as the Guardian piece reminds us, planners and managers of growing cities have known how to manage a rapid influx of new residents.

In the 19th century, it was the mass migration from farms and rural areas. In the early 20th, the Ellis Island generations from Europe to America and the Great Migration of blacks from South to North. With globalization and digitalization, the flight of families and companies from Rust Belt to Sun Belt. China since 1980 has taken such internal migration to unprecedented heights.

For receiving or destination cities, this is nothing new. Nor is the dramatic gain they have always seen from migration. This recent study documents the gains European countries are capitalizing on today as a result of  the recent wave of migrants from Asia and Africa.

The only difference in the coming mass migration within and across borders is that it will be provoked by climate change, and the winning cities will be the ones that are located away from at least some climate risks and build resilience and adaptation into everything they do.

Take the 100 Resilient Cities, for example, those engaged by the Rockefeller Foundation as part of a powerful program that funded the creation of resilience teams and dedicated policies at each city.

A quarter of the 100RCs are in the U.S., 23 of them in the lower 48 states. None is exempt from some form of climate disaster. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, lake-and-river floods, and plagues can hit anyone, anywhere, any time.

But cities in inland, temperate zones are naturally shielded from the common, disastrous coastal storms and floods, as well as the 2 to 5 meter sea-level rise expected later this century and sure to hit Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf cities far more severely. Indeed, those impacts have already begun.

The 11 American RCs located inland are, from East to West:

  • Pittsburgh
  • Atlanta
  • Louisville
  • Nashville
  • Chicago
  • St. Louis
  • Minneapolis
  • Tulsa
  • Dallas
  • El Paso
  • Boulder

Of these, Nashville, Dallas and Minneapolis have earned high spots on the lists mentioned above. Others fare well in other races. But all have a decided edge over inland cities that have not yet assembled a resilience team and begun to implement adaptation policies.

To be sure, this story, as does the Guardian’s, focused on America. Large continental countries have the benefit of multiple inland cities where people and companies can more readily migrate. Smaller ones and most island states do not. They need cross-border visa arrangements, and their people may face language and other barriers. Easing that process will be the work of the just signed UN Global Compact for Migration.

But that international dimension is also part of this exciting best-city paradigm — for the new destination cities to (hopefully) trip over each other to attract climate migrants from those more vulnerable locations, as well.

In the coming Age of Climate Migration, that will make the difference between the cities that become the fastest growing and best places in which to live, play and do business, and those that lose out.

Long-time green-economy and business journalist, sustainability analyst and communications executive, including 14 years as reporter and editor of Caribbean Business in Puerto Rico, five years as Sustainability Director at two banks on the island, general manager of a green marketing agency, and since 2014 independent strategist, blogger, consultant, freelance writer, and now Editor & Publisher of The Resilience Journal.

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