Cities Part 2 - Addendum
Been traveling and without consistent Internet, but here are some related articles before my next post:
As city infrastructure cannot keep pace with massive urban growth, many people will be left without adequate access to drinking water and sanitation, says WWF.
In most developing countries, urban growth is “inextricably linked” with slum expansion and poverty. In 2000, nearly one third of the world’s urban dwellers lived in slums, the current figure is much higher.
The study focuses on six of the world’s “exploding mega cities”: Mexico City, Mexico, with a population of 21.1 million; Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a population of 12.8 million; Kolkata, India, with a population of 15.4 million; Karachi, Pakistan, with a population of 18 million; Nairobi, Kenya, with a population of 3.5 million; and Shanghai, China, with a population of 23 million.
The past 50 years of experience with development co-operation have shown that finance alone is not sufficient. Ensuring funds are used as cost effectively as possible is essential for both providers and recipients.
“Latin America has emerged in the last year or two as one of the sharpest growing markets for renewable power worldwide,” McCrone said.
Excluding Brazil, Mexico took the lead in Latin America, with an almost 350 per cent increase in 2010.
Cities Part 2
Summer in Mexico City is a relief. Temperatures are moderate (ranging from 70-80 degrees during the day) and, at least during my time here, the days are sunny and clear. Most importantly, it rains a little less than an hour every single day (apparently it’s usually more but I’ve somehow lucked into a less rainy summer). This has the effect of clearing up the smog of a city that is so chock full of cars and people that it has one of the worst pollution rates in the world. Once, I saw a truck drive by a crowd and directly release a black cloud of exhaust into it. Used to such occurrences, the people sauntered onwards.
As we all know, cities (and industrialization) are beasts that gobble up resources and spew climate-altering waste. However, one of the emerging issues is not only that existing nations are creating problems, but also that several Third World countries will begin scaling up their industrialization as their economies strengthen. There just aren’t enough resources to allow that to happen. Having been interested in this issue of development of cities throughout the world, I was delighted to hear (yet another) TED Talk. If you’ll indulge me:
- Massive urbanization from developing countries will require energy far beyond what we can produce in the future.
- The only answer isn’t to replace fossil fuels with “clean energy.” We’re focusing on the wrong problem.
- Energy use isn’t just a conscious choice but is influenced by our environments. Research shows that denser cities produce less greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. with more resources close-by, there is less need to drive).
- We need to redesign cities through innovation in making parts of the city denser.
- People do not always need to own something. They just need access to its function (when necessary).
- Thus, spaces in cities can be made flexible to adapt to needs of people. “It’s not about the leafs above, but the systems below.”
What’s clear to me is that we need a massive global investment in civil and industrial engineers who engage in “systems thinking” (a concept I first heard in medicine through Paul Farmer and Don Berwick). I’ll be the first to admit that I am not an expert about how city design is tackled by governments throughout the world (though I’d love to learn more). However, it is clear that there is a vast pool of interesting research and innovations happening in the urban design industry. And while some are beginning to be implemented (such as this amazing initiative from White Tops NYC), there is so much more that can be done (and not just in rich metros like San Francisco or London).
Furthermore, there is not enough “systems thinking” in which each area of the city is designed with the whole in mind. In Mexico City, there are a number of “popis” colonias that are gated or upscale communities like Santa Fe and Polanco. Meanwhile, there is an entire side of a hill blanketed by slums (on the north side of city). The independent existence of these disparate neighborhoods is to the detriment of the entire city through health and economic costs. As much as the residents of the wealthier areas may enjoy a posh lifestyle, such a divide is unsustainable and, in fact, unjust. A city cannot be planned in parts, but the entire system must be considered.
With that, some intriguing questions arise. How can multiple areas of the city become “densified” in order to improve the overall density of the city (and lower carbon emissions) without having to invest in every single nook and cranny, which may be inefficient and unnecessary (described as tentpole density by Steffen)? How can businesses be clustered (or franchised into multiple locations) such that the right resources are in the most accessible places for people? It’s hard work but we now realize it is necessary work.
Innovation isn’t just a buzz word. It’s the way that we will go beyond conventional dictums (drive less, turn off lights), which are reasonable and necessary, and design new solutions based on scientific evidence and in-depth analysis. For example, Steffen brings up the concept of “walkshed” (check it out here), which is a method to calculate the “walkability” of an area (basically, how many resources and amenities are within walking distance). If we can use a walkshed score as a measure of assessing a city’s sustainability, it could help direct the design of a city.
As NGOs and local governments of developing countries scale up (as mortality decreases, life expectancy improves, and economies concurrently expand), we should think about how various stakeholders can work together to implement the most impactful and innovative city designs. Furthermore, we need to train more people in civil and industrial design and engineering—these solutions will not just come from throwing money without expertise at the problem.
Cities can truly be a boon to its inhabitants and can spur along developing economies. Our goal should be to maximize those benefits while eliminating the harms.