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Dispersed Cities Vs MegaCities

Posted in Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on February 7th, 2011

Via Trendwatching


Image of Mumbai by Abhisek Sarda via flickr CC

As unfashionable as it might sound, what if we thought less about the benefits of urban density and more about the many possibilities for proliferating more human-scaled urban centers; what if healthy growth turns out to be best achieved through dispersion, not concentration?

Foreign Policy article Urban Legends: Why suburbs, not cities, are the answer by Joel Kotkin:

The human world is fast becoming an urban world — and according to many, the faster that happens and the bigger the cities get, the better off we all will be. The old suburban model, with families enjoying their own space in detached houses, is increasingly behind us; we’re heading toward heavier reliance on public transit, greater density, and far less personal space. Global cities, even colossal ones like Mumbai and Mexico City, represent our cosmopolitan future, we’re now told; they will be nerve centers of international commerce and technological innovation just like the great metropolises of the past — only with the Internet and smart phones.

It’s far less clear whether the extreme centralization and concentration advocated by these new urban utopians is inevitable — and it’s not at all clear that it’s desirable.

Not all Global Cities are created equal. We can hope the developing-world metropolises of the future will look a lot like the developed-world cities of today, just much, much larger — but that’s not likely to be the case. Today’s Third World megacities face basic challenges in feeding their people, getting them to and from work, and maintaining a minimum level of health. In some, like Mumbai, life expectancy is now at least seven years less than the country as a whole. And many of the world’s largest advanced cities are nestled in relatively declining economies — London, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo. All suffer growing income inequality and outward migration of middle-class families. Even in the best of circumstances, the new age of the megacity might well be an era of unparalleled human congestion and gross inequality.

Perhaps we need to consider another approach. As unfashionable as it might sound, what if we thought less about the benefits of urban density and more about the many possibilities for proliferating more human-scaled urban centers; what if healthy growth turns out to be best achieved through dispersion, not concentration? Instead of overcrowded cities rimmed by hellish new slums, imagine a world filled with vibrant smaller cities, suburbs, and towns: Which do you think is likelier to produce a higher quality of life, a cleaner environment, and a lifestyle conducive to creative thinking?

So how do we get there? First, we need to dismantle some common urban legends.

[...]

Read the rest of this article by Joel Kotkin on the Foreign Policy site for some interesting points about future suburbs (clusters of services in the places people live) and some eye-candy (if you like cities, which I do).

One Response to “Dispersed Cities Vs MegaCities”

  1. Frank Reale Says:

    February 20th, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly that we should be building a large number of small compact cities instead of megacities. These small cities should be absorbing the growth of our large capital cities such as Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Do do this for Melbourne would require about 6 cities of about 100,000 people to be started in the next few years, and another 7 or 8 about 10 years after that. The process would be repeated until a stable population is reached.
    Each city would be designed and planned for a maximum population so that infrastructure is never strained. Release of land at each city would be slowed as the design limit is approached, and new cities would be started to take up the required expansion. Planning is crutial. Each city would be largely self sufficient or sustainable for energy, water and waste disposal.
    Electrical power would be generated in each city, so that a state wide distributed system with all of its advantages of reliability and efficiency are achieved. In addition the waste heat from the generation process would be used to heat and cool buildings and provide industrial heat instead of being dissipated through cooling towers. Studies conducted for southern Victoria show that efficiency of primary energy usage would be doubled. This not only halves energy usage, but also halves greenhouse gas emission. In order to allow thermal energy distribution to be implemented economically, cities would have to be of compact design.
    Self sufficiency with water can be achieved through rain water harvesting and grey water recycling. Because of initial detailed planning of infrastructure for the final population, costs of the infrastructure required to achieve self sufficiency can be minimised, and should be considerably less than providing additional water supplies through pipelines and desalination plants.
    The idea of compact sustainable cities to repace continued growth of our large capital cities, has a huge number of advantages over the ‘urban sprawl’ model, with which congestion is emerging as a major problem. Most people I have spoken to about the concept agree with it. However, it is not easy to implement unless political leadership and will are exercised. Unless this is done, we will be condemned to increasingly expensive, inefficient and unsustainable urban environments.