Global population set to hit 7bn this month

10 Oct 2011

Cities take the heat as urban migration continues

If there are any climate change sceptics left out there, this figure, or more importantly the numbers behind it, should be sobering at least. For it’s not the number seven that so dramatic in itself, but the rate of change that’s driven us to it. The six billion threshold was only passed 12 years ago in 1999. But look back a bit further and we find that when one billion was reached around 1800, it took a full 122 years to get to two billion. Now I’m no mathematician, but by my reckoning, that’s about ten times faster in just 200 years. And don’t forget of course, that it took millions of years to reach that first billion.

But even disregarding the past, just look at today, two numbers poignantly illustrate our planets dilemma. 267 and 108. The first is the people born every minute, the second… yes you’ve guessed it. It’s a huge difference and that’s our problem.

The graph opposite illustrates clearly that the rate of change has leveled off, but unfortunately, it is now fixed on the highest trajectory ever seen. The three future projections range between the pessimistic and optimistic.

The reasons behind this massive surge in growth are manifold but better healthcare and sanitation, resulting in increased life expectancy and lower child mortality rates in developing countries is undoubtedly a large factor. The underlying reasons, inevitable clusters, and other contributory factors will no doubt be wrestled over ad-infinitum by the world’s scientists, sociologists and analysts, but the cold fact remains that dealing with this increase and minimising collateral damage to our eco systems will fall to a great extent on to the architects and planners of our cities, for it’s the cities that will take the heat.

The implications are stark. When you take into account that some 74% of Latin American populations live in urban areas, as do 73% in Europe, and more than 75% in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, that’s a lot of pressure piling on to our cities.

Nothing’s new here of course, a whole army of organisations dedicated to addressing specific aspects of this problem have evolved, each tackling a different front in the war on saving the world’s cities from decline; Livable cities, Sustainable Cities, Future Cities, Eco Cities, Smart Cities, Living cities… but ultimately, the solution must be radical and holistic, a total shift in our approach is needed, piecemeal improvements to small areas and developments will not be sufficient to deal properly with the magnitude of this problem.

In my view, the future must be an integrated city. A city where the infrastructure works in tune with all the vital components that service its population, education, healthcare, housing, waste management, energy supply etc… all this is fine for a greenfield project, a sparkling new city of the future, but as we know, under the current structure of governments responsible for major cities, most just don’t have the clout or more importantly, in the current climate, the funds, let alone the vision to embark on such a mission.

So the real challenge must be not only be whether or how a step change in thinking can be achieved but how to make the vision commercially achievable and financially sustainable, because ultimately, it’s still all about the money.

Michael Hammond
Editor in Chief at WAN

WAN plans to hold a series of debates and forums on the Integrated City and other ECO issues would be pleased to hear from you with any ideas, experiences or initiatives that could make a difference. Email or leave a suggestion in the ‘Your Comments’ section.

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