Urban dwellers to outstrip rural population next year

This isn’t a new story, though. The World Urbanisation Prospects, put out by the UN’s Population Division, has had projections for several years (this update the 2005 revision):

UN urban/rural chart

Which is probably true of most of our experiences – certainly Australia’s. Even as populations grow, rural populations decline. The Guardian has an excellent graphic:

Urban population map

That’s meant to be a world map. You can see it, if you try. Australia is actually among the highest – but then if you saw the satellite image that I put up the other day, you’d not be surprised.

The trick with this is not to assume people are going to live like us. Through urbanisation and urban aggregation, megacities will fit better the definition of megaslums; read the incomparable book by Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, if you’re interested. His statistics and figures, drawn out of UN reports, are more than a little sobering.

Consider this. If you divide the planet’s productive space by its people, we’ve something like 1.7 hectares apiece, on which to live. I’ve commented previously that Australia, with an ecological footprint of 3ha per person, is third-worst, after the US and Canada. The United States’ ecological footprint is 24ha per person. If we all did that, we’d need 5 planets to sustain us, not just this one.

So it’s easy to put together in your mind. We don’t have 4 other planets on hand (or 5, really – just to grow stuff, and this one we keep for living on. With a little left over for the mansions). Our standards of living have got to go down, we have got to share our resources. Or rather, start sharing other countries’ resources with them. New Yorkers can no longer wake up each morning in their fairy tale of cheap food, clean streets and stocked shelves every morning (we had a blackout here yesterday, actually. No sooner was power back on than so were the air conditioners).

It won’t work quite like that. Urbanisation is not growing nearly as rapidly for ‘us’ (Australia was probably very near that percentage all along). Rapid urbanisation is occurring in the developing world, particularly what Davis refers to as ‘Pirate Urbanisation’ – illegal (I won’t say illegitimate), and most importantly without infrastructure. The world already has hundreds of slums, with multi-million-people populations, even megaslums – and all without proper sewerage systems, potable water provision, electricity. Hospitals, schools, sealed roads, streetlights, you name it. By and large they are either astronomically violent, or wonders of decentralised human co-operation, but not for long. People will settle, become wealthy, want stability, want amenities (want cars, large houses, flat-screen TVs, you name it. Freedom and Democracy are on the march, baby!).

This also relates to what I saying yesterday about Venezuela and oil exports falling more rapidly than production. Think of the cheap crap we buy in America: the cheap food that comes from South America, the cheap plastics made in China, etc. More and more, those resources (a) won’t be used to make such things for us, and (b) won’t be used to make such things at all More agriculture, assuming it won’t be used for bloody cars, will be needed to feed more people in one’s own country. More minerals, construction and electronics will be needed for the people and projects of one’s own country.

And that will necessitate the rest of us becoming somewhat more self-reliant. Let’s hope we don’t forget altogether how to manufacture things. For us, the direct effect will be higher strains placed on the infrastructure that delivers water, removes (and recycles) waste, provides electricity. I will salute whomever responds to urban aggregation and megalopolii (?) by constructing commuter rail from Washington DC to Boston (just don’t hire any of the Big Dig people, for God’s sake).

And we should probably keep that last 6 inches of topsoil away from the bio-fuels hippies, just in case we need it for food.

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1 comment so far

  1. […] to the issues not addressed. I ran through the urbanisation issues back during the Summer. Specifically, I discussed the wonderful book, Planet of Slums, by Mike […]


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