Megacities of the world: a glimpse of how we'll live tomorrow
By 2050, 7 out of 10 people will live in megacities, offering the benefits of concentrated living but also some of the biggest public-works challenges in human history.
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In the "developed" countries of the West, this trend had been building since the Industrial Revolution, which sparked, relatively quickly, the exponential growth of cities seen today. The quest for "efficiency" and the corresponding divisions of labor generated technological innovations that obliterated the need for farm laborers and local artisans. This drove populations from the country to the city over time and transformed the plow and the hoe into mere tools for backyard gardeners.Skip to next paragraph
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Today, on average, 3 out of 4 people living in modern industrialized states are already building their lives within an urban area – a ratio that will jump to more than 5 in 6 by 2050. By contrast, today in the least-developed regions of the world, more than 2 out of 3 people still eke out a living in a rural area. For these people, even the slumdog existence in places like Dharavi can offer more opportunities than their villages ever could. And within these developing regions, according to UN-HABITAT, cities are gaining an average of 5 million new residents – per month.
"Most of these [urban immigrants] couldn't earn cash in their rural situations," says Chuck Redman, director of the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University in Tempe. "There's not as much of a cash economy there, but they still want cash to buy radios and mobile phones or TVs – or even send their kids to school, which costs money in many of these countries."
Call it the lag of modernity: The changes wrought by industrialization began slowly 200 years ago, accelerated through the 20th century in the West, and now are spreading exponentially around the globe. Many observers see great promise in this urbanizing trend: The efficiencies of cities can cut energy consumption up to 20 percent, transportation costs for goods and labor can drop significantly, and entertainment industries can thrive when millions live together. In other words, cities are giant cash machines, the primary locus of economic growth.
"Some companies look at this as a huge opportunity," says Fariborz Ghadar, director of Penn State's Center for Global Business Studies and the author of a book on megacities. "We're going to build roads, we're going to build buildings, and [tech companies] love this because you can put the Internet in concentrated cities much more efficiently."
Yet, as megacities evolve in the developing world, many groan under the weight of a sudden, massive, and unprecedented demand for services never seen in the West. The basic necessities of clean water, of sanitation systems to remove megatons of garbage and human waste, of transportation systems to shuttle millions of workers, not to mention the need for electrical networks, health-care facilities, and policing and security, are, simply put, creating one of the greatest logistical challenges ever seen in human history. And this is even before factoring in the challenges of climate change, terrorism, and the preservation of human dignity.
Mexico City: on a bowl of pudding
An orange metal elevator heads deep into the bowels of Mexico City, where a crew of technicians and engineers is inspecting a 900-ton machine, longer than a football field, that burrows through a muddy mélange of rock, silt, and water. It's the first stage of the city's plan to build a massive new tunnel that officials hope will relieve the pressures on Mexico City's drainage system.