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.
(Page 4 of 6)
In São Paulo, Brazil, for instance, planners are struggling to cope with a drainage system that was built when the city was a fraction of its current size. Poor maintenance has left much of it clogged, while forest and parkland have given way to haphazard housing in many areas of the world's third-largest city. Now there are fewer green areas to soak up incessant rains.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"Irregular construction and expansion have taken place in areas that the rain runs into, and, as the weather has been so bad over the last six months, these areas that act as natural reservoirs have become flooded," says state meteorologist Marcelo Schneider. "Now they are occupied, but people shouldn't really be there. It is the poor that suffer."
Beijing: The commute that never ends
Zhao Ning lives just outside Beijing's Fifth Ring Road, one of the massive concentric expressways that circle the center of China's second-largest city. She wakes up at 5:30 a.m. each workday morning, quickly puts on makeup, and then rushes out to catch her first bus for her interminable commute to work. She barely has time for breakfast.
She transfers to a second bus, which takes her to the subway. Then she transfers twice more, needing three different lines to make her way to another bus that will take her to her office in northwest Beijing, where she is the associate director of an American study-abroad program. The subway system is only two-thirds the size of New York's, but it carries the same number of daily commuters, more than 5 million.
"Each day I spend four hours on the road," she says. "It is very exhausting and it puts so much pressure on me, especially in the morning."
Despite Beijing's modern, well-kept web of beltways and feeder roads into the city, driving is not an option now for Ms. Zhao, even though she and her husband own a car. Like most sprawling megacities, traffic – and the resulting, oft-reported pollution problem – is a constant urban plague. More than 4 million cars jostle along Beijing's roadways, with nearly 1,300 added every day, according to the city's Traffic Management Bureau. In April, the city began to adjust the working hours for nearly 810,000 of these commuters, hoping to alleviate the morning and evening rush.
When Zhao once tried to drive, her car was quickly entombed in traffic. "I was so worried – like an ant dancing in a hot pan," she says, using a classic Chinese expression. "Since then I haven't driven to work."
Indeed, along with water and sanitation, the challenges of mobility virtually define the growth of megacities. At the same time, they reveal the profound social and political upheaval the world's transition to city life can create. Cities bring economic growth and the expansion of the middle class. Members of the middle class want to own property – homes and, increasingly, cars.
That is certainly the case in São Paulo. Brazil's economy has grown enormously over the past few years and a full 15 percent of the nation's gross domestic product is based here. The country's family aid programs and a progressive government have helped more than 20 million people become middle-class since 2000. Big-ticket items like cars and houses are now within reach. More than 600 additional vehicles hit São Paulo's roads every day.