Gone are the days where people are impressed by projects costing $10-$50 million or even $100 million. We are witnessing an explosion in the number of $1 billion+ projects with some, like the artificial archipelago being built in Azerbaijan, Turkey’s massive Urban Renewal project in Istanbul, and the new construction of Masjid Al Haram in Saudi Arabia each exceeding $100 billion.
But even these are merely scratching the surface of the extreme megaproject growth that will happen over the next decade, and there are several important reasons why this is happening.
First, we’re seeing a shift in power towards megacities. As people relocate from rural to urban communities and population clusters grow, so does the demand for major infrastructure improvements to help manage the traffic, water, sewage, power, and living strains of these growing economies.
Second, the wages paid for workers building infrastructure projects will improve the local economy to a point where other megaprojects become viable.
Third, as global awareness improves, so does the desire to standout and impress the rest of the world. Megaprojects become a source of national pride and a status symbol for emerging economies.
Fourth, we are moving into an era of technological unemployment where jobs are automated out of existence at an unprecedented level. The demand for new jobs – and these will provide tons of new jobs – will trump most other arguments.
And finally, megaprojects have a way of collateralizing themselves through the sheer size and impact of the project. Even though many will be based on un-provable claims and flawed accounting, the spinoff economies alone will create an overpowering momentum to push them across the finish line.
The growing list of megaprojects include tunnels, bridges, dams, highways, airports, hospitals, skyscrapers, cruise ships, wind farms, offshore oil and gas rigs, aluminum smelters, communications systems, Olympic Games, aerospace missions, particle accelerators, entire new cities, and much more.
In spite of their problems, here’s why the megaproject list will continue to grow and will continue to define the cities and megacities of our future.
Understanding the Value of Megaprojects
According to Global Strategist, Parag Khanna, we are becoming a globally networked civilization because that is exactly what we’re building. All of the world’s defense budgets and military spending taken together total just under $2 trillion per year, but our global infrastructure spending is projected to rise from $3 trillion to $9 trillion per year over the coming decade.
“We have been living off an infrastructure stock meant for a world population of three billion, as our population grows towards nine billion,” says Khanna. “As a rule of thumb, we should spend about $1 trillion dollars on basic infrastructure for every 1 billion people on the planet.”
It’s no surprise that Asia has taken the lead. In 2015, China announced the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which together with a network of other organizations aims to construct a network of iron, silk, and digital roads, stretching from Shanghai to London.
And as all of these megaprojects unfold, we will likely spend more on infrastructure in the next 40 years, than we have in the past 4,000 years.
Examples of this are easy to find. Ten of the world’s most impressive megaprojects currently in the queue include:
- Dubai World Central Airport (United Arab Emirates)
- Songdo International Business District (South Korea)
- Tokyo-Osaka Maglev Train (Japan)
- Masdar City (United Arab Emirates)
- The Grand Canal (Nicaragua)
- National Trunk Highway System (China)
- International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor [ITER] – Fusion (France)
- World’s Tallest Building (Azerbaijan)
- Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (India)
- King Abdullah Economic City (Saudi Arabia).
According to Bent Flyvbjerg, a management professor at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, megaprojects currently constitute 8% of global GDP (gross domestic product).
Even though nine out of ten megaprojects experience cost overruns, and most take far longer to build than expected, they represent a crucial piece of today’s global economy.
Flyvbjerg also noted that project leaders have an incentive to overstate income, underestimate costs, and exaggerate future social and economic benefits due to lack of accountability and risk-sharing mechanisms.
But even though things go wrong, people generally don’t care. They don’t care about the poorly calculated cost-benefit statements, squandered money along the way, or the political wrangling necessary to get the green light; they just want something significant to happen in their community.
The benefits of megaprojects can be boiled down to these six points:
- Technological Inspiration. Most megaprojects are technically inspiring. Engineers and technologists develop great enthusiasm for working on large and innovative projects, pushing the boundaries for what technology can do.
- Source of Jobs. With so many jobs being automated out of existence, megaprojects serve as a catalyst for both the unemployed and the under employed.
- Political Accomplishment. Politicians need something they can point to with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
- Economic Benefits. Business people, trade unions, and workers alike will all reap the rewards from megaprojects.
- Community Pride. Everyone loves to tell stories about the big things their community accomplished.
- Aesthetic Beauty. Most people appreciate good design when it comes to building, using, and looking at something very large that is also ironically beautiful.
As a rule of thumb, history books don’t spend time memorializing the critics and project-killers, only those who succeed.
Raising the Bar – 64 Next-Generation Megaprojects
It’s easy to look at the world’s top 10 bridges and try to build something bigger, taller, longer, or more artistic than any of the ones currently in existence.
The same thinking applies to creating the next tallest building, largest cruise ship, longest tunnel, most popular theme park, or grandest stadium.
At the same time we seeing a form of blue ocean thinking creeping into the megaproject arena that includes never-been-done-before projects like colonizing Mars, tube transportation networks, floating islands, and underwater cities.
Here are a few megaprojects that have the potential to inspire the world for generations to come:
A. Global Infrastructure – All global systems need a point of origin, and the point of origin will typically turn into the global center of knowledge and operation for the industry it creates.
- Global Tube Transportation Project – ET3, Hyperloop, or something else.
- Whole Earth Automated Postal System – Delivering packages anywhere on earth without ever touching human hands.
- Global Wi-Fi Network – Connected anywhere at anytime.
- Global Genealogy Systems – For humans, plants, and animals including standards.
- Global Ownership Authority – To govern standards and regulations, for personal ownership rights.
- Global Privacy Standards – Adoptable by every nation on earth.
- Global Ethics Standards – Including courts for oversight.
- Electronic Borders – For countries to monitor all the inputs and outputs through their borders.
B. Space Industries – Every major space project has a huge ground support team all hoping to be part of that next great interplanetary mission.
- Space resorts
- Asteroid mining
- Space-based power stations
- Space elevator
- Colonizing other planets
- Traveling faster than the speed of light
- Satellite Shooters – To shoot satellites into space
- Constellations of Floating Wi-Fi antennas, solar powered planes, floating balloons, cubesats, and more to provide Wi-Fi to the entire world
C. Ocean Industries
- Floating island resorts
- Floating farms – for grains, fruits, vegetables
- Open ocean aquaculture mega farms – for raising underwater sea plants and animals
- Floating countries
- Underwater museums
- Underwater arboretums
- Ocean wave power generators
- Freshwater factories – turning saltwater into freshwater
D. Controlling Extreme Weather. We continually find ourselves the victims of forces of nature while it is entirely possible to mitigate the damage of extreme weather.
- Controlling hurricanes
- Controlling earthquakes
- Controlling tornadoes
- Controlling hailstorms
- Controlling desertification
- Controlling draught and famine
- Controlling dust storms
- Controlling extreme blizzards, rainfall, and flooding
E. Grand Bridge-Tunnel Projects. When it comes to ground transportation we have several massive disconnects in our global transportation network.
- Bridge across the Bering Straight – Connecting North America with Asia
- Bridge across the Darian Gap – Connecting North and South America
- Gibraltar Bridge-Tunnel System – Connecting Europe and Africa
- Sweden to Finland Tunnel – Connecting Sweden and Finland.
- Korea Japan Friendship Tunnel System – Connecting Japan and Korea
- Taiwan Strait Tunnel Project – Connecting China with Taiwan
- Saudi-Egypt Causeway – Connecting Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
- Sakhalin-Hokkaido Tunnel – Connecting Japan with Russia
F. Extreme Physics Challenges – Many of the world’s current list of megaprojects include infrastructure, buildings, and cities with no real focus on long-term economies to sustain them. Items on the following list have the potential for creating entire new economies.
- Terraforming Planets – Developing the formula for recreating human-friendly earth-like environments on other planets and moons.
- Mass Energy Storage – Storing power from one day to the next is still far too inefficient. Think in terms of cities having a 2-week power reserve at all times.
- Controlling Gravity – The single greatest force of nature is gravity, yet we know very little about it.
- Sending a Probe to the Center of the Earth – We currently know very little about the center of the earth.
- Controlling Time – Many possibilities such as manipulating time in short intervals, soas to know something 5-10 minutes before it happens.
- Viewing the Past – How can we create a technology capable of replaying an unrecorded event that happened decades earlier in actual-size, in holographic form?
- Instant Disassembling of Matter – Think in terms of a process where large boulders can be instantly disassembled into a pile of molecules, simply by breaking all the molecular bonds.
- Revival of Extinct Species – Too many species have already gone extinct and many more are on the watch list. Extinction revival has the potential of spawning entire new industries.
G. Extreme Data Megaprojects
- The Billion-Cam Video Project – What would it take to get people to connect 1 billion video cameras to the Internet? How will this change the world?
- Whole Earth Law Project – Very few countries have their laws posted in a central repository.
- World’s First Billion Internet of Things Operating System – Architecting over 1 billion devices talking to each other is a powerful position to be in.
- Global Elections – When will we see the first global election with over 500 million people voting from over 50 different countries?
- World’s First Billion Sensor Network – What advantages will be created when over 1-billion sensors are tied together?
- Global Language Archive – Over 500 languages have less than 10 people currently speaking the language.
- World’s First Billion Drone Operating System – Much like cellphones, drones will evolve around a common operating system.
- Global Intellectual Property System – Including patents, copyrights, and trademarks.
H. Solving the Human Equation – No person should ever die… ever! If we can fix human aging, repair accidents, cure diseases, and modify deviant behavior, people no longer need to die. As a result, no person should ever die… ever! Is that our goal? And if not, why not?
- Curing Cancer
- Curing Diabetes
- Curing Heart Disease
- Curing Suicide
- Curing Human Aging
- Cloning or Printing Humans
- Curing Deviant Behavior
- Creating Super Humans
Creating the world’s largest statue
India has started to build the world’s tallest statue, the Statue of Unity. It will be a 790 feet tall tribute to Sardar Patel. By comparison, Crazy Horse Monument in Custer, South Dakota, which has been under construction for nearly 70 years, is only 564 feet tall.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (or just Sardar, which means Chief) was the first Home Minister (the head of the Ministry of Home Affairs) and Deputy Prime Minister of post-independence India from 15 August 1947 to his death in December 15,1950.
In the past, megaprojects like the Pyramids in Egypt or the Great Wall of China became a lasting testament to human accomplishment simply because of the incredible amounts of human labor involved in the undertaking. But today it’s far more about the size, money, and significance of the project.
As I travel around the world, it’s hard to miss the sheer number of construction projects happening in every major city. If we only read newspaper headlines, it would appear megaprojects are primarily taking place in China and Dubai, but there are hundreds more that haven’t gotten nearly as much attention.
If we do increase our infrastructure spending to $9 trillion per year, as Parag Khanna suggests, megaprojects will rise in importance from roughly 8% of global GDP to close to 24% factoring in all the spinoff economies.
Over the coming decades we will begin the transition to megacity cultures, lifestyles, and economies. Megacities themselves will become more important than the countries they reside in.
With megaproject spending reaching unprecedented levels, any failures will have far reaching implications.
If your city, region, community, or country is not working on its own mega projects, it will certainly be left behind.
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything