State of the World’s Cities

A large portion of this week’s discussion in class was focused around the idea and implications of urbanization, its effects and the large transition the world is currently undergoing from a rural to urban population. The relationship between the ever increasing global population and the rate at which the urban centers on the globe are spreading is a delicate one, dependent on several key factors such as technology, environment and economy.

According to the US Census in 2000 (which can be found here), 79% of the population resides in what is classified as an “Urban Area”, which according to the report is all areas with a population greater than 50,000. The relationship between this figure and the increasing population should be noted here as there are several links between the percentage of the population that is “urbanized” and the global population. As population has increased the number of people in any given rural town has also increased, and looking at the population growth curve according this website a clear link can be drawn between the exponential population growth rate and the high percentage of the US population that lives in urbanized areas. It is notable though to consider the growing population with the consideration for the percentage of that population residing in developing countries– where urban centers are likely few or relatively small. Regardless though, it is hard to refuse the simple fact that if the global population rising at the same rate, the rate of urbanization will likely reach a relative equivalent.

Another interesting factor to consider regarding urbanization technology’s role in allowing, and restricting the possibility of urban development around the globe. In developed countries is seems like technology has been, for the most part, an enabling factor that has led to the progression of positive urban development. Planners are able to better predict the future, architects can design more sustainably and engineers are able to solve issues with fewer limitations. In contrast to this ideal scenario in which technology is a driving force in urbanization, it could be the case that in developing countries the rapid introduction of technology has only increased social stratification and bolded the urban divide. According to a study conducted by Claudia Buchmann and Emily Hannum regarding social stratification in developing countries (found here), they have examined education as a key component to the increase in stratification. It is hard to deny that technology and education share a linear, or maybe exponential relationship. According to the study a combination of national factors, communal factors and family factors shape the potential of one’s education in a developing country and in turn determines the economic outcome of the individual. Conclusively, it is important to note the correlation between technology and social stratification as the two seem to have direct impact on the success of urban development, especially in developing countries.

Solutions to urbanization certainly do have plenty of variety, some of which take stances that would require a massive shift in mindset, especially that of Hank Dittmar, a transport expert and head of the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment. Dittmar calls for “typological” cities instead of unique urban centers with character in a report published by the BBC. He argues that by introducing a level of generic quality to each city, development will be handled more efficiently and the manner in which the world develops will be uniform, sensible and predictable. Of course, this does come at the cost of the unique identity each city currently craves in order to attract more wealth to it– an idea engraved in Western culture that city life is supposedly an “exotic” experience. Though Dittmar’s solution might be culturally costly he does pose an interesting alternative, one that certainly has some validity but does conflict with the irrational human desire for character in the “living” entity known as a city.

–Forrest Bibeau

Sources Used:

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/census_issues/archives/metropolitan_planning/cps2k.cfm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/5094602.stm

http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.soc.27.1.77

http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange2/current/lectures/human_pop/human_pop.html

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