All over the developing world, ultra-modern megacities are being built.  In Egypt, two new megacities are rising from the desert about 20 miles outside Cairo because city planners have deemed the existing city center to be "overtaxed beyond repair."  In the Philippines, a new "Global City" with modern high rises, shopping centers, and hospitals has sprung up on the high ground of a former military base near the existing business center.

These new, modern cities are essential.  As reported in an earlier post, more than 5 billion people, or 60% of the world's population, will live in cities by 2030 -- and many of those cities will have populations in excess of 25 million people.  Unless we build new infrastructure and even new cities, the pollution and waste generated by megacities will literally kill millions of people.

The problem is what we are leaving behind.  Critics of the new cities say they are only for small populations of the rich, while tens of millions of poor people will be left behind in the old cities.  Without investments in the old cities, they will turn into massive shantytowns as the existing infrastructure decays.  Critics see a future not all that different than the animated movie Wall-E, where all the humans left earth to live on a space ship because cities had become massive garbage dumps surrounded by decaying infrastructure.  It turns out in real life that we have enough vacant space outside existing cities so we need not move to outer space.  We are just moving 20 miles outside the existing cities instead.

The impacts of cities, however, have never been contained within their geographic boundaries.  Throughout history, cities have influenced the culture, politics, and commerce of entire nations.  That is as true today in the internet age as it was at the dawn of civilization.  (My recent-college-graduate son, for example, is considering employment opportunities in the web-based video game industry.  All the job offers are in either New York City or Irvine, California, and none allow telecommuting.  It appears that even those who spend most of their waking hours in virtual worlds on the internet want to physically live and work in the same city as everyone else working on their virtual worlds.)

Cities also have tremendous impacts on a nation's ecology.  Highly efficient housing, energy, waste disposal, and mass transportation systems can dramatically reduce pollution not only within a city, but also throughout a region and across national boundaries.  On the other hand, inadequate housing, energy, waste disposal, and transportation systems result in increased pollution that create health risks to everyone who shares the air, groundwater, rivers, streams, lakes and oceans.  Even if they live 20 miles or more away.

These new, ultra-modern cities are a step in the right direction.  They will provide more efficiency in energy, housing, waste disposal, and transportation.  It just makes no sense to build them if we are going to ignore the environmental catastrophes that will develop in forgotten urban wastelands 20 miles down the road.

John Howley
Orlando, Florida

9/2/2010 06:53:50 pm

This is where good master planning and thorough studies should come in.

Cities have to be reinvented to meet the looming problems and challenges.

A long time ago a city was made as both symbol of power and as a defense for a group of people.... in the industrial age we made cities production centers.

Now... what should cities be? I believe we will need mega cities... but mega cities that do what exactly....

The really nice and posh cities that are being built I think are ok if they make up less than 10% of all the cities.... but as we recycle cans, bottles, steel... why don't we recycle old cities.... to serve the majority of the population... look at it in a different way... see the resource (which are mainly the people) and reshape those cities to give a better environment for those people....

just some thoughts


9/10/2010 11:53:58 pm

I've noticed that you mentioned Bonifacio Global City in your blog. I've worked in a couple of buildings in Global City as an Architectural Quality Control Inspector but professionally, I am a freelance architect.

We have developers here like the Ayala Group and other more recent companies that boast green architecture. The problem is that marketing in the Philippines sees the word green as part of a catch phrase. We do have a few ongoing projects here that aim for Leeds certification. The real challenge though is maintaining consistency throughout the entire city. A green building only serves the conscience of the occupants and building owner. For green architecture to even have an impact on a developing country, it needs to be of significance on a cultural level. Even if it's just one city.

I have this personal belief that for something to catch on with developing countries like the Philippines, high tech must be low tech. For any technology to gain proliferation and widespread use, it needs to be easily manufactured, maintained and repaired.

My mom showed me your blog and I find it very interesting. She knows your wife. If there is anything that I can help you with, please let me know. I've long thought of joining non-profit organizations that look beyond the needs of today. I believe that some problems require creative solutions.

9/25/2010 09:36:16 pm

For more on the dichotomy between new, modern, sustainable cities and the less sustainable cities left behind, see this article from the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/26/arts/design/26masdar.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&th&emc=th&adxnnlx=1285500236-IIeuzEutq9Nz7ia%20UCQroQ

12/31/2010 05:25:46 am

When we face such immense challenges we need to look to nature for solution templates. Nature shows us that ecosystems have load-limits. Nature also reduces population naturally when too many individuals of a species over-weight the system. They either move on. Or they are thinned out with diseases or scarcities. Humans have upset this natural sizing schema - and we must find other ways to reduce populations such as education about population control, as well as reshuffling populations to more habitable locations. We face many huge problems due to social engineering of past generations and cultures. How will we come together in new ways to meet these new challenges?


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