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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"One of the main characteristics of the city is that it grows horizontally," says Dr. Marcel Solimeo, the chief economist of the São Paulo Commercial Association, an interest group. "Housing is further and further away, and jobs are concentrated in the city center. The amount of time we spend getting to work is enormous."Skip to next paragraph
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The city and state have added bus lanes, and authorities have put restrictions on trucks and other big vehicles. But it is the city's nascent rail system that holds the key to easing gridlock on the roads. São Paulo currently has just 37 miles of rail line. The city hopes to expand that sevenfold by the time it hosts the soccer World Cup in 2014
"All investments were based on cars, but that is starting to change and the focus is moving towards organizing public transport," says Antonio Carlos Barrossi, an urban expert at the University of São Paulo. "Now it is about people. It is late, but it is important."
A major problem confronting expanding cities is how to graft new subways and sewer systems onto existing neighborhoods. In China, authorities have tried to circumvent that by creating entire cities from scratch. As part of the government's aggressive urbanization program, it has poured large resources into building new communities, especially deep within the mainland. In fact, many of the most educated Chinese professionals on the coast have never heard of cities in their own country, some with populations the size of Houston.
In 1980, only 51 cities with more than 500,000 people existed in China, according to UN figures. Since then, that number has jumped to 236. By 2025, the UN estimates, China will add 100 more cities to this group, as it pursues moving millions of rural peasants into vast urban networks. And with its robust rate of economic growth, China has the money to pursue the theorem, "If we build it, they will come." Its centralized political system also makes it easier to plan new urban networks without significant resistance.
India, by contrast, is a democracy that must confront layers of competing political interests as it plans new large-scale projects for its megacities. The building of the Bangalore airport, finished just last year, took more than 15 years to plan and develop, and many consider the process a disaster.
Yet the massive migration to cities is causing challenges beyond taxed sewer systems and tribal politics. Mumbai, for instance, is experiencing the arrival of 500 newcomers a day, many of whom compete with locals for jobs. This has caused a backlash among regional politicians, who are trying to pass laws to preserve work for area residents.
"While European cities are struggling with multiculturalism [from other countries], we are coping with cities that have huge proportions of internal migrants – and internal migrants who are still diverse," says Amita Bhide, an urban expert at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.
In China, the effects of massive urbanization may be more political. As its middle class grows, the freedoms that come with greater wealth could put more pressure on Beijing to open up its political system.