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