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Fwd: [urb-eco] A world made of cities (Brand talk)

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  • Richard Risemberg
    ... -- Richard Risemberg http://www.rickrise.com http://www.newcolonist.com http://www.living-room.org
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 10, 2005
      Begin forwarded message:

      > From: Sam Bower <sam@...>
      > This is from a recent talk by Stuart Brand of the Long Now Foundation.
      >> I started with a spectacular video of a stadium in Philadelphia being
      >> blown up last year. The announcer on the video ends it, "Ladies and
      >> gentlemen, you have just witnessed history!" Indeed demolition is
      >> the history of cities.
      >> Cities are humanity's longest-lived organizations (Jericho dates back
      >> 10,500 years), but also the most constantly changing. Even in Europe
      >> they consume 2-3% of their material fabric a year, which means a
      >> wholly new city every 50 years. In the US and the developing world
      >> it's much faster.
      >> Every week in the world a million new people move to cities. In 2007
      >> 50% of our 6.5 billion population will live in cities. In 1800 it
      >> was 3% of the total population then. In 1900 it was 14%. In 2030
      >> it's expected to be 61%. This is a tipping point. We're becoming a
      >> city planet.
      >> One of the effects of globalization is to empower cities more and
      >> more. Communications and economic activities bypass national
      >> boundaries. With many national governments in the developing world
      >> discredited, corporations and NGOs go direct to where the markets,
      >> the workers, and the needs are, in the cities. Every city is
      >> becoming a "world city." Many elites don't live in one city now,
      >> they live "in cities."
      >> Massive urbanization is stopping the population explosion cold. When
      >> people move to town, their birthrate drops immediately to the
      >> replacement level of 2.1 children/women, and keeps right on dropping.
      >> Whereas children are an asset in the countryside, they're a liability
      >> in the city. The remaining 2 billion people expected before world
      >> population peaks and begins dropping will all be urban dwellers
      >> (rural population is sinking everywhere). And urban dwellers have
      >> fewer children. Also more and more of the remaining population will
      >> be older people, who also don't have children.
      >> I conjured some with a diagram showing a pace-layered cross section
      >> of civilization, whose components operate at importantly different
      >> rates. Fashion changes quickly, Commerce less quickly,
      >> Infrastructure slower than that, then Governance, then Culture, and
      >> slowest is Nature. The fast parts learn, propose, and absorb shocks;
      >> the slow parts remember, integrate, and constrain. The fast parts
      >> get all the attention. The slow parts have all the power.
      >> I found the same diagram applies to cities. Indeed, as historians
      >> have pointed out, "Civilization is what happens in cities." The
      >> robustness of pace layering is how cities learn. Because cities
      >> particularly emphasize the faster elements, that is how they "teach"
      >> society at large.
      >> Speed of urban development is not necessarily bad. Many people
      >> deplored the huge Levittown tracts when they were created in the '40s
      >> and '50s, but they turned out to be tremendously adaptive and quickly
      >> adopted a local identity, with every house becoming different. The
      >> form of housing that resists local identity is gated communities,
      >> with their fierce regulations prohibiting anything interesting being
      >> done by home owners that might affect real estate value for the
      >> neighbors (no laundry drying outside!). If you want a new community
      >> to express local life and have deep adaptivity, emphasize the houses
      >> becoming homes rather than speculative real estate.
      >> Vast new urban communities is the main event in the world for the
      >> present and coming decades. The villages and countrysides of the
      >> entire world are emptying out. Why? I was told by Kavita Ramdas,
      >> head of the Global Fund for Women, "In the village, all there is for
      >> a woman is to obey her husband and family elder, pound grain, and
      >> sing. If she moves to town, she can get a job, start a business, and
      >> get education for her children. Her independence goes up, and her
      >> religious fundamentalism goes down."
      >> So much for the romanticism of villages. In reality, life in the
      >> country is dull, backbreaking, impoverished, restricted, exposed, and
      >> dangerous. Life in the city is exciting, less grueling, better paid,
      >> free, private, and safe.
      >> One-sixth of humanity, a billion people, now live in squatter cities
      >> ("slums") and millions more are on the way. Governments try
      >> everything to head them off, with total failure. Squatter cities are
      >> vibrant places. They're self-organized and self-constructed.
      >> Newcomers find whole support communities of family, neighbors, and
      >> highly active religious groups (Pentacostal Christians and
      >> Islamicists). The informal economy of the squatter cities is often
      >> larger than the formal economy. Slum-laden Mumbai (Bombay) provides
      >> one-sixth of India's entire Gross Domestic Product. The
      >> "agglomeration economies" of the burgeoning mega-cities leads to the
      >> highest wages, and that's what draws ever more people.
      >> So besides solving the population problem, the growing cities are
      >> curing poverty. What looks like huge cesspools of poverty in the
      >> slums are actually populations of people getting out of poverty as
      >> fast as they can. And cities also have an environmental dimension
      >> which has not yet been well explored or developed.
      >> There has been some useful analysis of the "ecological footprint"
      >> that cities make on the landscape, incorporating the impacts of fuel
      >> use, waste, etc. but that analysis has not compared the per-person
      >> impact of city dwellers versus that of people in the countryside, who
      >> drive longer distances, use large quantities of material, etc. The
      >> effect of 1,000 people leaving a county of 1,000 people is much
      >> greater than that of the same 1,000 people showing up in a city of
      >> one million. Density of occupation in cities has many environmental
      >> advantages yet to be examined.
      >> At present there's little awareness among environmentalists that
      >> growing cities are where the action and opportunities are, and
      >> there's little scientific data being collected. I think a
      >> large-scale, long-term environmental strategy for urbanization is
      >> needed, two-pronged. One, take advantage of the emptying countryside
      >> (where the trees and other natural systems are growing back fast) and
      >> preserve, protect, and restore those landscape in a way that will
      >> retain their health when people eventually move back. Two, bear down
      >> on helping the growing cities to become more humane to live in and
      >> better related to the natural systems around them. Don't fight the
      >> squatters. Join them.
      >> ###
      >> Next month, Friday, May 13, Will Jarvis, author of TIME CAPSULES: A
      >> Cultural History, will speak on "Time Capsule Behavior." There will
      >> be more about the vibrancy of squatter cities on Friday, June 10,
      >> with Robert Neuwirth, author of SHADOW CITIES, talking about "The
      >> 21st-century Medieval City." Jared Diamond, author of COLLAPSE, will
      >> speak on a Friday this summer still being determined.
      >> --Stewart Brand
      >> --
      >> The Long Now Foundation - http://www.longnow.org
      >> Seminars: http://www.longnow.org/10klibrary/Seminars.htm
      > --
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      Richard Risemberg
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