You’re probably familiar with megacities like Tokyo, New York City, or Shanghai. But are you familiar with Chengdu, Faridabad, Surat, or Beihai? These are among the fastest growing cities in the world. In the next 10 to 20 years, the number of megacities — those cities with 10 million or more residents — are expected to double. And earlier this month, China announced that more than half of its citizens live in urban areas for the first time ever. All of these examples point to a world becoming rapidly urbanized.
The Guardian explores the good and bad that comes with this rise of megacities.
Optimists see a new network of powerful, stable and prosperous city states, each bigger than many small countries, where the benefits of urban living, the relative ease of delivering basic services compared to rural zones and new civic identities combine to raise living standards for billions. Pessimists see the opposite: a dystopic future where huge numbers of people fight over scarce resources in sprawling, divided, anarchic “non-communities” ravaged by disease and violence.
How is this playing out in places like Chengdu, China and Delhi, India?
It is far from sure that India’s notoriously chaotic and inefficient systems of government can cope [with rapid urbanization]. At current rates of investment, McKinsey says, India’s already congested cities will face gridlock with only a quarter of the necessary trains and metros and a severe shortage of water. Many inhabitants will have no drinking water at all and up to 80% of sewage will go untreated. In all more than a trillion dollars needs to be invested in infrastructure projects alone, it estimates.
In China, some are looking to slow the rate of urbanization:
Chengdu’s mayor, Ge Honglin, claims that the city has avoided some of the problems associated with migration into the cities by encouraging families to stay in the countryside. “The first thing I did was to improve the conditions – schools, shops, garbage collection, the sewage system. We had to cut the gap between rural and urban areas. If people could have a brighter future in the countryside, they’d stay there. So we’re not seeing people swarm into the city… Instead there are people in the city considering moving to the country.”
It’s certainly a complicated matter. How do cities keep up vital services for their residents when new residents are moving in at such a fast pace? And how do they do it while conserving vital resources? But ever the optimist, I think that the connectedness inherent in cities provides the best opportunity to provide people with economic opportunity while conserving resources. It won’t happen over night, so we need to be patient while cities go through these growing pains and figure out the best solutions for rapid urbanization.
How the rise of the megacity is changing the way we live [The Guardian]