Prospects of Cities
Prospects of Cities
There’s a greater than 50 percent chance that when you look through your window, what you see is a landscape of concrete, asphalt, and cars. More than half the world’s population lives in cities, and the proportion is increasing—as are the problems associated with progressively denser and more aggregated communities. As we move further into the twenty-first century, the urban transition will gradually draw to a close after two centuries that transformed the human population from an agrarian society scattered over the surface of the earth to the highly compressed life of the city. The growth of urban living is one of the greatest paradoxes of our age. New technologies offer companies and individuals an unprecedented degree of locational freedom and mobility. We are increasingly able to see, hear, and sense one another, even when we are thousands of kilometers apart. More than ever people choose to live in close vicinity of each other, as if there were no other possibility to communicate. Once most people live in cities the urban landscape will have become the dominant habitat for human beings and explosive urbanization will inevitably come to an end. We will then enter an era of posturbanization in which the city will have to find a new dynamic. Growth will no longer come by drawing people in from outside. Will cities maintain their scale? Or will urbanization go into reverse, turning downtown Shanghai, Mumbai, and Chicago into wastelands as the twenty-first century progresses? Detroit offers a glimpse of what happens when a city ceases to breathe. What used to be a theater is now a parking lot; the residual population grows vegetables on former city squares; empty office blocks gradually succumb to the weather; the car industry has collapsed, and nothing has emerged to replace it. How can we prevent cities from falling apart under their own weight? Everywhere in a city, you’ll probably hear the growling and snarling of an urban street. You feel its heartbeat. The city’s hunger never wanes: It eats up its surroundings and excretes a constant flow of waste.
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