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Mankind’s progress through the millennia has been intimately entwined with the development of cities. From the ancient near East cradles of civilisation to the modern megalopolis, the growth of urban living, with its concentrations of population and talent, has spurred creativity, economic growth, civic society and democracy.

In medieval Europe, feudal serfs who fled to the city and its more liberal environs could, at one time, gain their freedom after living there a year and a day, leading to the saying Stadtluft macht frei – urban air makes you free. The words still resonate – albeit in a very different context and with a changed meaning: the city can liberate the individual from a past life and offer an exciting new beginning.

Today, urbanisation is proceeding at an explosive pace across the globe, bringing great opportunities for progress as well as great challenges, underlined by the slums that disfigure so many developing world cities. Two hundred years ago a mere 3 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. Four years ago, that figure surpassed 50 per cent, or 3.5bn. The UN forecasts the total will be 5bn by 2030.

All this poses an immense challenge to create city environments that enhance the quality of life rather than undermine it. It is against this background that the Financial Times is publishing a series of three magazines on urban ingenuity, to accompany a global awards scheme run jointly by the FT and Citi, the US financial services giant. The FT/Citi Ingenuity Awards: Urban Ideas in Action programme will recognise individuals or organisations that have found solutions to urban challenges in four areas – energy, infrastructure, education and healthcare. The research partner for the awards is Insead, the international business school.

This is the second FT Urban Ingenuity magazine and covers education and healthcare, the vital human services without which cities cannot thrive. The first magazine, published in July, covered energy and infrastructure, which form the environment that makes city living tolerable. A third magazine will provide the backdrop to the awards, which will be announced in December.

The magazines include profiles of the strongest candidates for the awards and contributions from key opinion formers and experts on how to rise to the challenge of advanced urbanisation. Accompanying videos are on FT.com.

We at the FT, with our global reach and reputation for the exchange of cutting-edge ideas, are delighted to support this important initiative, addressing one of the most challenging issues of our time.

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