Sunday, August 13, 2006


The world has changed remarkably in the last century. We've moved from a largely rural world citizenry to one that is rapidly becoming largely urban. In 1905 the largest city in the world was London, with a population of 6.5 million. Today it is dwarfed by Tokyo, with a population of 34 million. London, now with a population of 7.5 million, doesn't even make today's top twenty largest cities. In 1900, only 14% of the world's population lived in cities. It's likely that, as is my case, your ancestors did not live in a city. Today, roughly half of the world's population lives in cities, and unlike my ancestors, I do. Here in the United States, 80% of our population now is urbanized. Cities continue to grow larger, and many towns are becoming new cities.

The ramifications on our lives of this new societal placement are many. A common refrain of those less than thrilled about urban life is that this new settlement pattern is bad for the earth. As it turns out, this is really not the case. Many of today's most ardent environmentalists recognize that a city designed for sustainability offers the best opportunity for us to most sustainably populate the world. The best way to help our planet may be urban living. Of course, this is only if it's done correctly.

So what can be done to make a city sustainable? It's an important goal as currently cities comprise a mere 2 per cent of the Earth's land, but use up seventy-five per cent of its resources. What is good, though, is that the size of cities create inherent economies of scale that make living on less natural. First steps include reducing the need for cars and creating spaces for urban agriculture. Smart urban planning is needed to ensure vibrant communities centered on good transit options, with space for all socioeconomic groups to find a corner.

As the future becomes now, will urbanization result in more slums and poor educational systems; or will the world's resources be managed more efficiently in bringing a good life to the masses?


pepperdeaf said...

i too have been interested in the cultural transition from rural to urban.

i have always found it fascinating that if you put a wall around chicagoland everyone would eventually die because nearly all food comes from outside. most urban areas are wholly dependent on rural areas for food and resources.

i have thought so many times that if something catastrophic were to happen i would want to take my family back home to my rural town because at least there i could be somewhat self-sufficient. we could make our own food, heat, etc.

Oneway said...

"most urban areas are wholly dependent on rural areas for food and resources."

It works the other way around, as well. Rural areas would shrivel up and die without the city's demands. A wall around a farm would also kill its inhabitants.

It seems the US is certainly headed towards massive urbanization. Without subsidaries and protectionism, many of the American farms would already be history, because other countries can produce agriculture in increasingly wiser ways. Today's cornfield is tomorrow's subdivision.

pepperdeaf said...

>>Rural areas would shrivel up and die without the city's demands. A wall around a farm would also kill its inhabitants.<<

i do not understand what you mean. explain.

Greg said...

It's interesting how in a lot of sci-fi movies that take place in the future (ie, 100+ years out or more), they almost always depict these inconceivably massive, congested, high-tech metropolitan areas. While that's fun to envision, I'm thinking that if technology does continue to truly progress, then what we'll see is nature being restored not just in our cities, but also in our homes and in our gadgets.

My feeling is that most people like to be out in nature, and most people like to have some privacy. It sometimes is a very good thing for a person to get alone or to be with just a few close friends and relatives for awhile. We need this from time to time to relax, learn, and grow. (This is not meant to diminish the value of being in community in any way, nor is it a comment about where somebody should or shouldn't live. It's simply a comment that 1--People like nature and 2--People like to have an option that allows them to withdraw from society for awhile.)

The future is very difficult to predict, but a key will be transportation. When you look at how brutal our current transportation system is (considering the frequency and horror of traffic accidents), we could be in for a big change this century. A lot of hoopla was made over the Segway, but that turned out to be of little consequence. Something truly revolutionary could be around the corner though. If and when the ballgame is completely changed regarding how we get from point A to B, many more options could be opened up regarding how and where we live.

Oneway said...


What's to explain, my man? Take the same wall you imagined around Chicago and put it around a farm town. Same result, widespread death.


The trend making American farms obselete does not extend to recreational nature, which enjoys its own problem, namely, people don't demand nature enough (with their wallets). Currently we depend on government agencies legislating by fiat, innundated with eco-nuts, and beleagured by the normal bureaucratic bs common to all government programmes. I hope for a transformation within the Church that restores stewardship of the earth.

Greg said...

Okay, so how tall is this wall we're talking about? I mean, if it's blocking out the sun, yeah, everybody's dying.

pepperdeaf said...

>>What's to explain, my man?<<

i guess us small town folk are a little slow. . . but i am not sure how i am dying in my small town without access to chicago. i have my water supply so i don't need that fancy bottled stuff they sell in the city. . . and i have my food on the farm, so i don't need that preserved packaged stuff they sell at the city 7/11. i even have some animals that reproduce quite well without skyscrapers. granted i don't have the bears or the bulls, but i suppose i can live without them.

all this is assuming you don't block out my sun as greg pointed out.

Oneway said...

This is exactly the type of discussion Al Gore invented the internet for. I visited my father-in-law's farm this weekend and saw machinery that didn't sprout from the soil. I saw Claritin pills that didn't fall from the sky. I saw paramedics that didn't grow on trees. I saw fertilizer that wasn't mined from the earth. I saw big rigs actually delivering supplies, not collecting them. But the best thing I saw was the eighth groundhog peeking up for a look before I put a bullet in him. Oh, the rounds also didn' know.