Published on Sustainable Cities

Urbanization: The Half-Time Score

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ImagePersonal affluence up 3000%; people living in extreme poverty down from about 75% to 20%; atmospheric CO2 concentration up from 280 ppm to 393.5 ppm; at least 700 known species lost; 1.3 billion hectares with moderate to severe soil degradation; big fish in the oceans – more than 90% gone.

The starting gun for the first half of industrialization – globalization – urbanization sounded in 1784 when James Watt, William Murdoch and Matthew Boulton’s efforts culminated in a patent award for the “steam locomotive”. That’s when the urbanization race began in earnest. Half of us now live in cities, with 185,000 more streaming in every day.

Urbanization drives connections and crowds, which in turn drive capitalism and growth. With far more players in the game this growth should continue – greening it, feeding it, and better sharing it will be the big thing to watch for in the second half. Especially with the shaky close of the first half.

What to watch for?

One thing for sure: urbanization will play out a lot faster in the second half than the first. Africa, the last continent to urbanize, will be largely urban before 2100.

Total species loss? Hard to tell; but predictions say we could lose about 30% of the planet’s species, especially if we exceed 600 ppm CO2 and 5o C warming. Wealth? Probably not another 3000% increase for everyone; maybe another 1000% but for two to three times as many people. That’s a good thing as we are going to need that increased wealth to pay for environmental safeguards and reinforce our cities. Our ability, and willingness, to pay that bill is not certain.

Five other things to watch for in the second half: (i) when consumption, measured by solid waste and GHG emissions, peaks; (ii) if there’s a change in quarterback, or playmaking is shared more cooperatively; (iii) if player’s salaries are better distributed across teams; (iv) increasing hope, innovation and cooperation, hopefully; and, (v) if the total throughput of ‘stuff’ per person in cities can be reduced five-fold from today’s levels.

The second half will be much more volatile and fast-paced than the first – and there will be many more players on the field. More injuries are almost guaranteed. There’s also a growing chance that the game will be called on account of weather.



Dan Hoornweg

Professor and Jeff Boyce Research Chair, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

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