in Cities

City Planet

In City Planet, Stewart Brand describes the current massive migration to the world’s cities and the reality of squatter cities. The piece changed the way I understand cities and how the world population is evolving. Here’s some quotes…

The growth of cities has led to demographic trends exactly the opposite of what many experts have predicted… Demographically, the next 50 years may be the most wrenching in human history. Massive numbers of people are making massive changes. Having just experienced the first doubling of world population in a single lifetime (from 3.3 billion in 1962 to 6.5 billion now), we now are discovering it is the last doubling… Just as the population exploded upward exponentially when the birthrate was above 2.1, it accelerates downward exponentially when it’s below 2.1. Compound interest cuts both ways. Fewer children make fewer children.

Cities are remarkable organisms. They are the most long-lived of all human organizations… In Europe, cities replace 2 to 3 percent per year of their material fabric (buildings, roads, and other construction) by demolishing and rebuilding it.

…when governments and idealistic architects provide public housing, those buildings often turn into the worst part of the slums. The people who build the shanties take pride in them and are always working to improve them.

Unemployment rates, the U.N. report notes, are irrelevant in an economy that is largely informal… Social cohesiveness is the crucial factor differentiating “slums of hope” from “slums of despair.” …in the U.N. report: “Cities are so much more successful in promoting new forms of income generation, and it is so much cheaper to provide services in urban areas, that some experts have actually suggested that the only realistic poverty reduction strategy is to get as many people as possible to move to the city.”

Mike Davis: “…since 1970, and largely because of its appeal to slum women and its reputation for being colour-blind, [Pentecostalism] has been growing into what is arguably the largest self-organized movement of urban poor people on the planet.

In Brazil, a country with a good reputation for helping squatters, Mr. Neuwirth reports that the cable, power, and water companies decided to stop treating the gatos (“cats,” the squatters who siphon off public services) as thieves and instead treated them as people trying to become customers.

Global corporations often provide the best-paying jobs and best working conditions in town, raising the standard for everyone. Global NGOs, having learned to distrust national governments, go straight to the burgeoning new cities, where the neediest can be served most directly.

What the world has now is new cities with young populations and old cities with old populations. How the dialogue between them plays out will determine much of the nature of the next half century. The convergence of the two major trends, globalization and rampant urbanization, means that all cities are effectively one city now.

  1. In my work as a Labor leader, attempting to achieve social justice, fair pay, and equal economic opportunities, I have noted large international firms taking advantage of impoverished populations to create a cheap labor pool that was unorganized and desperate for employment. Globalization has meant, for them, exploitation of their nation’s resources.

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